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chasing down a daydream

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When the early morning sun breaks over the horizon, it doesn’t reach Stiles’ eyes. As much as he loves his little safe haven, a sunrise is one thing he wishes he could experience in its entirety. Or even better, a sunset. He has read those are beautiful too. That is a downside to basements, however. He has one small window about the size of a pillow. It’s longer than it is wide, and runs up close to the ceiling, which is the equivalent to the ground outside. He can see nothing but the gravel of the alley outside through its dirty glass. Mama Jen had always insisted that he kept it covered, even though no one ever went down the alleyway. Better safe than sorry, that’s her motto. The world is a dangerous place, especially for someone with his gift. She risks her life everyday just going out and making sure they have money to live on, and she does that to keep him safe, so the least he can do is listen to her.

So it’s not hard to understand why he has been starting to feel so insanely guilty lately. Mama Jen never comes by earlier than mid afternoon, the sun higher in the sky and the clock striking small numbers. He takes advantage of that knowledge more often than he cares to admit.

When he had hit double digits, he realized that he had managed to get just tall enough to see something through his one connection to the outside world. At first it was a thrill, something he could only do briefly. Climb onto a chair, uncover the window, and stand at the dirty glass to see what he could outside. It never lasted long, and the window would be covered once more with Stiles diving into his bed, his heart hammering in his chest. It was a thrill, and it was terrifying. But such an occurrence that happened once every couple of months soon started happening every month, then every couple of weeks. And suddenly he was doing it once a week at least, for longer and longer each time.

When he thought about it, he could blame it on the music. Stiles rarely heard any outside noise from his little home, an open spaced group of rooms that included plenty of things a teenaged boy could use. He isn’t sure if the world is always that silent, or if Mama Jen made the walls special just to protect him further, but what noises he did hear always fascinated him.

One time he almost threw up when a thunderous noise flew by, shaking the ground around him, and it was an experience he’d always wanted to have again. Most of the sounds sort of terrified him, in a way that was exhilarating.

But one night in late May, as he lay in bed, he heard the most beautiful sound he’d ever known. It was a slow rise and fall of music, similar to the same sounds he created on his piano, but deeper and more exciting. Stiles scrambled to pull the cover away from his window, still it wasn’t enough. It was obviously very loud wherever it came from, but it was far away. He only heard the echoes off of the land around him, and it was enough to change him. That was the first night he cracked the window open, just a few inches, and the distant music flooded through the glass to ease the anxiety in his heart, filling him with emotions he’d never fully felt before.

That was also the night he met his best friend. The open window brought with it beautiful music, a breeze of stale smelling air, and a high pitched mewl. Stiles sat back and watched with fascination as a small kitten approached him — red as the paints he had in his cupboard — and waited for him patiently, rubbing her face along the edge of his window frame. He stood and stared a bit too long before the music overwhelmed him. His hand shot out, picking the kitten up and slamming the glass closed. It was rough and it was quick, but the kitten did nothing but try to soothe his shaking limbs. He named her Lydia, after a scientist in one of the books he owned, because she came from a different world. When Mama Jen found her three weeks later she actually let him keep her, with the promise to never touch the window again. It was the best day he’d ever had.

Stiles only ever opened the window on the same date: May thirty-first. On that day, for the last seven years, the music played. He would practically sit and shake when the time came, vibrating in his spot, and Mama Jen was never happy about it. There was no way she could know he was breaking the rules, but on that day of all days Mama Jen always seemed to be in a terrible mood, even as she claimed she wanted him to enjoy himself. Stiles never let it get to him, though, knowing she couldn’t stop him after she left for the night. As soon as the sun fell and the small world he could see was dark, the thrums of instrument after instrument would pick up from far away and travel all the way to his room like it was meant just for him. Other than Mama Jen and Lydia, it was the only thing in this world that he loved.

But after seven years of listening from afar, it isn’t enough anymore. He needs more. He knows that with more and more surety the more often he uncovers that window, Lydia judging him quietly from his bookcase. His May thirty first is in a little over a week, and hearing the music quietly from behind these walls just doesn’t seem enough anymore. He has to change something, and though he knows there is a huge chance she will say no, he needs Mama Jen’s help with it. She is very particular about keeping him safe and sound from the monsters outside, but she had gotten him a new book last year, and had let him get a board game just a few months ago. And, as his cat’s dainty yawn and stretch reminds him, with enough convincing he had even gotten to keep Lydia. He just has to play his cards right, and he isn’t talking about the three decks of them on top of his piano.

When Mama Jen opens the hatch and descends her rope ladder, the first thing he knows she’ll notice is how clean everything is. Stiles isn’t instinctively organized, or rather he has an organizational process that others rarely understand, including Mama Jen. But that day the mass of rooms separated only by supporting poles and the occasional piece of hanging fabric is spotless, from the flat, cold ceiling right down to the stone floor. Even as Mama Jen greets him he can see her eyes taking in the area suspiciously and he gives her his biggest, most innocent grin.

“Stiles... what have you been up to?”

“Oh nothing, just spring cleaning… I wanted to talk to you about something...”

Before he can get any further, she holds up a hand, turning from the distasteful look she always spares only for Lydia to a simpering frown. “Oh, child, can it wait?”

She reaches above her to let her stiff, dirty hair down, and he recognizes, like always, how tired she looks. Every day she looked exhausted. She sets down the cooler she brought, and he quickly rushes over to put away the food she made him in his fridge, making sure the bottom of it is plenty clean for her to take away with her soon. The light in his fridge is the only electrical light he’s allowed, since electric bulbs are easier to see than firelight from outside.

She collapses onto the chair next to his piano with a heavy sigh and he moves just as swift as before, this time taking her flats off and setting them to the side, like he knows she likes. “So sweet, as always. Listen, let me just get a massage for a bit, dear. Get a taste of that beautiful magic you make, and then I promise to listen all about your undoubtedly eventful day.”

Stiles nods, because that is a deal he is willing to make. He scrambles to stand behind her, moving her hair off of her shoulders, and makes himself relax the nervous thrum in his veins before he begins. His fingers find the proper placement and he can feel them start to heat, knowing he was going to find a way to release the magic that is inside of him. He presses his fingers into the muscles under her skin, finding knots and digging in deeper against them, and as it builds his hands gain a faint golden glow. The air grows as warm as his fingertips and he hears Mama Jen sigh in relief. She’s practically a puddle against the cushions in minutes, and while he’s not sure he knows how it works, she suddenly looks so much more awake and alive than she did before. Her hair is shiny, her skin gaining color, and he feels a sort of happiness that he is able to help her this much, but it’s only a shade of his normal elation as he prepares for the next part of his plan.

“I’ve been working on something new.” He broaches nervously.

She hums in question, turning her head to face him with blissed out and bright eyes. “Is it yet another clock painting, my dear?”

“No, it’s a song.”

“Oh, new music? Finally using that guitar you begged for?”

“No, not yet..” She raises an eyebrow, and he winces at her judgement. “Sorry, that one is harder to learn without a book. I’m trying, I promise. But this new song is on the piano.”

Mama Jen looks down at her seat where she’s already comfortable and gives a small nod of permission. “Very well. Anything is better than more gears on paper.. no offense, dear. Go ahead.”

“Okay, tell me what you think.”

She nods and he moves the cards off the top of the piano to retrieve the note paper he had filled, placing his fingers where they need to be. This one is a bit more complex than anything he usually plays, and thusly is a bit more rough around the edges. But he hopes he can get the general feeling across, even if he hasn’t perfected it. It’s hard recreating a song by ear, and he honestly would have rather worked on it for a few more weeks, or years, before he showed anyone, but time is of the essence. When he’s done he turns, seeing her watch him with shrewd eyes.

“So..?”

Sometimes Mama Jen did this thing with her face where she very gradually reacts to something, as if guarding a part of what she is thinking. She is doing it now, and Stiles briefly worries she is doing it because he sucks. “Definitely new, child.. what was it?”

Here goes nothing. “I tried to recreate one of those songs that I hear on the thirty first. I mean, I know that particular music has a lot more instruments.. at least, I think it does, it sounds like it does through the cover on my window. But I thought it could make a more basic version of it, kind of chilled out, and I think it doesn’t sound so terrible.. right?”

He loses more and more confidence as he speaks, because Mama Jen’s eyes shut down as soon as he mentions the music from his window. She pulls her feet down off the footrest, making to grab her shoes and he scrambles to finish his words before he loses them all together.

“Listen, you know how much that music means to me right? I mean, all music does, but that especially.”

“Yes, yes, I know Stiles. And you did very good. It’s definitely a start, and with more practice you will surely play something that sounds similar, you just have to set your mind to it Stiles, like I always tell you. Eventually, if you can stop getting so distracted by your daydreams and your messes, you could create something really beautiful.” Her tone isn’t one of excitement, and he purses his lips, sort of hoping for a bit more support, but making himself stay on task even as her voice continues on with judgement. “Preferably something you make from scratch, not based on of some silly random tunes from god knows where.”

They weren’t silly, and Stiles knows that, but he’d long since stopped thinking he could convince her of that. He clears his throat awkwardly. “Speaking of those tunes.. I want to see them. In person. Or, the band that plays them, since..”

Mama Jen stands quickly and it surprises Stiles enough that he stops talking, losing his train of thought completely as she gives him her back. “Oh Stiles..” She simpers, and it certainly doesn’t sound good for his case. But he already has his arguments ready.

“Just for one night! And I promise, I’ll never go out again, I’ll never want to. It’s going to be my eighteenth birthday soon, and that’s the only thing I want in the world, Mama Jen!”

She’s shaking her head and he wishes he could see her face, so he stands slowly from the piano bench as she speaks. “I thought I had made myself clear a long time ago, child.. it’s too dangerous.”

“No, I know, I promise I’ve listened to you! But you go out every day and you’ve always figured out a way to do it. I won’t use my magic, I won’t even talk to anybody, and it would only be four or five hours, tops. They never play for over two hours! And then we can come right back here.” He walks up to her side and tries to catch her eyes, watching as she packs the old dishes back into the cooler, as if already prepared to leave. “Can’t you just think about it?”

She seems to tense before her body relaxes once more. Face turning to him finally, he feels a little unsettled by the look in her eyes and her hand comes up to cup the side of his face. He turns into her touch instinctively, watching her carefully. “I’ll go for now. I’ll sleep on it tonight, and we’ll discuss it further when I come back in three days.”

“Three days?” Stiles gasps, not used to her being away that long. She hardly ever skips one day without visiting him, let alone three. A part of him automatically feels like he is being punished, and he bites back these thoughts, knowing they couldn’t be true.

“Yes, I’m sorry, I have some important business to attend to.. but I gave you enough food to last if you use it sparingly and don’t overfeed your hairy ‘friend’, and you can truly think about whether or not you want to go and we can discuss whether it’s a possibility. How does that sound?”

Stiles feels a little breathless, thinking he hadn’t really seen any more food than usual when he was putting it away, but gradually nods in agreement. If it meant they would talk about it, then he would do anything.

-

Stiles questions his resolve on leaving his home late the next night.

Mama Jen isn’t the easiest person to deal with, but she is the only person he has. She is the only person he has ever known... she has horror story after horror story of his magic being discovered when he was a little kid, too young to remember. Stories about his dad turning his back on them and almost killing her because he and his magical friends were so obsessed with power. If she hadn’t risked everything and saved Stiles from the terrible man, who knows where he’d be now? She puts her bet on sold into slave trade. Her stories are always graphic and terrible, enough to give him nightmares as a kid, but he is always so full of gratitude for her and everything she does to make him happy. She brings him paper and pen, paints, puzzles, instruments, and most importantly, company. No matter how terrible her day, no matter how worn down she looks, she always comes to visit him so he wouldn’t be alone. Those few hours are things he lives on.

So when they are well past the twenty four hour mark and Lydia is getting annoyed that he won’t sleep, even going so far as to gently swat his face when he starts throwing a ball at the wall repeatedly, he feels Mama Jen’s absence heavily. Is it possible that this is a punishment of sorts for asking? She didn’t seem like she had packed extra food, and she hadn’t mentioned her absence before then. Could she have made it up on the spot? It didn’t seem fair to him.

Then he turns around on himself - of course she isn’t doing it to punish him. She isn't that kind of person, and never had been. She is always as sincere as she can be with him. Sure, she isn’t perfect, but she also has to keep him safe. He lifts his hands over his face in the light of his candle and thinks of all the terrible things people would do for his healing abilities and knows she’s doing it for his own good.

Lydia swats him in the face again, but it doesn’t help. He only gets a couple hours of sleep, and he’s basically useless the next day. He never peeks out the window, even as the sun goes down, and doesn’t get any farther with his music. He knows deep down in his chest that she won’t let him go outside, and a little voice in his head wonders if she will ever come back at all. He knows how much she hates the idea of him getting hurt.. it’s her one rule. The one thing she asks of him. Why did the one thing he need have to be the one thing she will never give him?

It is late at night, long after the last rays that manage to sneak through his cover disappear, that he hears the noise. At first, he isn’t sure how to react. It is so rarely that he ever hears anything, that once he does hear something, he is left sort of speechless. Ask Lydia, speechless is a strange look on him. It keeps happening, and it’s growing closer. He sits up quickly, making Lydia complain as she sprints away from him and up on his shelf.

“It’s footsteps,” he says quietly to her green eyes, and the idea makes his heart slam in his chest. There is another person outside. Probably some thug or monster, some criminal running from the cops. For a moment he entertains the idea of going up to the window, checking outside... but he chickens out last minute, scrambling back to the other side of his bed. The wall behind him is the farthest point from the window, and after a few seconds the steps disappear.

For all of his curiosity about the world outside, suddenly he can’t seem to breathe. The steps cease right outside his window. Lydia hisses and Stiles makes a shushing motion at her, not wanting to draw any attention. The last thing he wants to hear after that is another set of feet, but that’s what comes. These are dragging, slow steps, following right behind the other pair. Two thugs? Seriously? He’s vibrating from his need to escape, to get them to leave, to make them not know he's there.

“No.. no.. please.. I didn’t do anything..” The voice is muffled, and it’s right on the other side of the window. The person is breathless, begging, terrified. What are they begging for? Who is with them? There is a pause, and then there is what he can only describe as a roar. A deep, terrible roar, like what Stiles imagines the dragons in his book would sound like. The sound of tearing, like fabric or something more important, being ripped under knives, or claws. It is all so sudden, and without being able to see, Stiles only has his imagination to rely on. There is screaming, and tearing, and then nothing.

By the time only one pair of feet slowly drags away from his window, Stiles is on the ground between his bed and the wall, curled tightly into a ball and wishing he could remember how to breathe.

-

Stiles eventually does get some sleep, exhausted from the night before... and from the night of little sleep before that. He never steps near the window, not even within five feet of it. That doesn’t leave him a whole lot of room to operate, but he makes it work. Even looking at the window makes him sick to his stomach, the idea that there could be a dead body on the other side, murdered by a monster in cold blood. His fingers shake too hard to try guitar, and the same books he’d read three times didn’t distract him. He finishes the food, and it lasts him longer than he thought it would, his anxiety and fear making him lose his hunger. He just sits and waits for Mama Jen to open the hatch and drop down her ladder, practically counting the minutes.

As soon as Mama Jen’s foot hits the floor, Stiles is hugging her, needing the reassurance. He feels weak from head to toe, and when her hands reach up to hold him back, he breathes a sigh of relief before tearing himself away. “Mama Jen! I think... I think someone was hurt. Outside my...”

“Stiles. What do we do first?”

Stiles stops speaking abruptly. He realizes that she looks really worn down, more than he’s ever seen her. There’s even grey in her hair at her temples. Her voices is worn and frustrated already, and she’s barely been here a minute. He swallows heavily, fighting against his instincts to comply. “But Mama, I heard someone get hurt... or worse, I think they died!”

Mama Jen walks right past him and to her chair, collapsing onto the cushions. He watches as she takes her shoes off, dropping them next to the cooler, his face colored with surprise at her lack of interest. Eventually she makes an impatient gesture and it spurs his movement, situating himself behind her to lay his hands on her shoulders. It still takes himself a moment to start to massage her muscles, and it takes him a lot longer than usual before his fingers start to warm. Once he gets going, he’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t stop until she pats his hand and pulls him around to sit on the ground in front of her. Stiles always knew his touch helped her, but the sight of her transformation now shocks him, leaving an even more unsettled feeling in his chest.

“Now.. what is this you were asking? You had a nightmare?”

Questions like that had never bothered him before, neither had her underestimation him and her putting aside what he says aside like they were silly fantasies. Maybe it is because he is getting older, but her words now rankle deep in his chest.

“It wasn't a nightmare! I heard two people... well, one was a person... outside my window last night. They were... fighting, or something. And then the other one had to have been a monster or something because he...” Stiles is on his knees, and his hands curl into fists over his kneecaps. “He made this sound, like an animal, and there was screaming. I think one killed the other.”

Mama Jen watches him speak, obviously listening, but he never actually feels like she’s hearing him. “Stiles... I think maybe I’ve told you too many stories of the outside world. It sounds like your imagination is getting away from you.”

He always knew she had trouble working with him... he is hyperactive and overly excited, he is loud and talks about three things at once. He knows all of these things about himself, because she tells him. But this is the first time he feels like she’s not even trying. He wonders how many times in the past he pretended like her disinterest was just exhaustion, or her making herself be responsible, when she was actually just not listening.

“I know what I heard.” He says firmly, moving to stand in front of her.

“Stiles... I walk passed that window on my way here. Don’t you think that if I saw a body, or blood, I would have done something? There was nothing there.”

Stiles’ lips part in surprise, and they stare at each other for a second, before he scrambles to grab the cooler, stepping away to load the food into the fridge. He just needs a second to compose himself. He feels like his mind is going a mile a minute, and she had barely been here for fifteen minutes. His hands shake as he puts the food away, grabbing the empty containers and packing them away in the full one’s place. He takes his time, and Mama Jen never speaks to him. When he turns away, he smiles at her, handing her the cooler.

“Are you alright, son?” Mama Jen asks, raising a brow curiously.

Stiles nods. “Yep. I just didn’t sleep very well last night. Nightmares will do that to you.”

The admission that it was a nightmare makes Mama Jen’s face relax into a smile, her bright, youthful, glowing cheeks softening. She stands and cups his face, running fingers over his shaved head, and it’s the first time she’s ever done it that he doesn’t feel comforted. Instead, he is left swallowing down bile. “Maybe I should let you sleep, hm? Come back tomorrow and bring a razor? You’re looking shaggy.”

She doesn’t mention the music, and he doesn’t either. He just smiles and nods. “Yeah, I don’t think I’d be very good company today.”

“Then I’ll leave you be. And I hope that imagination of yours doesn’t bother you again.” She leans down to put her slippers back on before looking at him fondly, as if he is still five and making messes. “As much as I’m glad that you know things like that... exactly like what you dreamed about... happen in the real world, I don’t want you to be scared. Because as long as you are in here with me, you’ll be happy. Happy and safe.” He nods, and it is the wrong thing to do. She seems to sense his hesitation. “Maybe I’ll try again to find you that guide on how to play guitars. How does that sound? Would that make you smile?”

He forces himself to smile, tapping into how badly he had wanted that just a few weeks ago. “That would be amazing.”

“Then consider it done. Anything for you.”

With that, she is gone, cooler in hand. Lydia watches him from his bed and he watches her back. Because he only had to take five minutes at the fridge to decide that he hadn’t dreamed what happened the night before. He is certain, and isn’t going to doubt himself. He had heard someone get hurt outside his window, and if she didn’t see proof, then he is being lied to somewhere along the lines. Because none of it added up. And it all started because he wanted to hear the music.

-

Stiles had a bag packed by the end of the night. It is a black backpack Mama Jen had gotten him to hold his books and pencils, saying she wanted to give a ‘school’ experience. He uses that bag to experience math, science, grammar, history... and now he is going to use it to experience the outside world.

Supposedly. He hadn’t actually gotten passed the packing of the bag. It is already the middle of the night, or early morning, judging from how someone lives their life, and he had just finally decided on the appropriate mixtures of flannel and jeans to put away. He liked flannels, so over time he had gotten quite a collection of colors. It is the main reason Mama Jen had taught him what a lumberjack is. He has a toothbrush, toothpaste, his favorite book on collectible clock mechanics, and left enough room for food. That leaves him plenty of time to sit and stare at his bag like an idiot without a plan.

He only knows one thing for sure - he has four days before the thirty-first. Well, three now. And he is going to be there to hear the music they play on that day how it is supposed to be heard. Up close and personal. He wants to count the number of instruments playing and see if the ground vibrates when he got close enough. He wants to see the people they play for, know what they look like. He wants to know if they know how lucky they are to experience it every year.

The problem is that he has no idea how he is going to do this. He can’t open the window more than a crack, and Mama Jen uses a ladder she takes with her to get in and out of the hatch, which opens from the outside. When he does manage to get him and Lydia out, because there is no way he is going alone, he has no idea which way to head. Technically he could wait until the music starts, but there is no telling if he would find it before they finish. The world is scary, and Stiles has no interest in it. He didn’t want to spend every day hiding from people who want to hurt him, always scared. He is going to have one chance before he ends up back down in his home, and he isn’t going to miss a minute of the performance.

It is like he can feel Lydia judging him. “Would you stop? I’m trying here. I just need to make a plan.” Her yawn is strangely sarcastic for a cat, but she is his only friend. He supposes he is allowed to read into her actions.

He had just given in and was going to hide the bag and get some sleep when he hears it. He has a suddenly sick feeling of deja vu as the steps slam on the ground towards his window, getting gradually closer until they are right outside. He doesn’t get closer, but this time he doesn’t run away. He can hear heavy breathing this time, as if the person is crouched right near the glass. Stiles stares at the window cover as he feels Lydia brush against his leg, sitting close to his feet as if to give him support. Or claw his calf if he decides to do something stupid. He bent down and blew out the two candles he had lit, not wanting attention. This time, though, when more steps start coming there is no begging and screaming. Instead, before they can even get close, there is a low metallic grinding noise.

Stiles stares in shock as the metal of the window frame and it’s arms are bent until they snap, pulled outside and set on the ground. The cover goes next, until there is an open rectangle in Stiles’ wall, nothing but darkness on the other side. As Stiles’ eyes adjust, used to dim lighting, he sees a figure fall down into his home, fitting tightly with a soft sound as they slide through the hole, falling easily to their feet onto the floor. The other pairs of feet, because it did sound like more than one, came and went their way. The other person sighs a breath of relief, eyes trained on the window, and before Stiles can question his actions, he has his guitar in his hands and has slammed the edge of the wood so hard against the other person’s head that the instrument has broken in half.

-

After the guitar hits the man - because it is a man, under the dark jeans and leather jacket - his head hits the wall and he collapses on the floor. Stiles doesn’t move for a minute, worried the noise will bring the other people back. But no one ever shows up. He takes the jagged neck of his guitar and pokes the man a few times, but other than low breathing, there’s no reaction. Not dead, at least. He grabs the piece of thick fabric he has hanging between the rest of the room and his bathroom and climbs over the man’s body to pin it on the wall the best he can, covering the window, or lack thereof.

Then he lets himself take five minutes to pace the room and freak the hell out. What did he just do? What did he honestly expect was going to happen next? Lydia meows at him loudly, wandering over to the man’s body. “I know, I know!” He says in exasperation, wringing his hands. He sits back down on the bed again, exactly where he was before, but instead of a backpack he stares at an actual breathing, living person. His entire plan has suddenly changed, and he has no idea what to do. The idea of hiding his backpack and waiting until tomorrow night is suddenly out the window - literally - and avoiding the people outside is changed to having one in his damn home. He’s ruined everything.

“No, no, no... I can do this, I can work with this.” Lydia bats at the unconscious guy’s head, as if to see if he is really out. He is. Thank God. She starts to snoop around his body, sniffing along, and Stiles watches her. His eyes catch something shiny near the man’s body and Stiles can’t help himself. He slowly sneaks forward, watching the man’s face in the dim light for any sign of conscious activity, and as soon as he gets the object in hand, he scrambles backwards, not stopping until his back is against his bed. He catches his breath from the thrill of the experience and looks down.

In the firelight, the round metal shines beautifully, and Stiles knows what it is immediately. The pocket watch is a brilliant gold, smooth and cold against his hand despite the fact that it had fallen out of an undoubtedly warm leather jacket. It had a delicate chain hanging from the top and at the bottom is a jewel encrusted knob. He adjusts it and the door opens, leaving behind a thin cold sheath with holes for the appropriate numbers, and when that is turned carefully he finds a pearly white face and thin, stark hands. It is right on time, he confirms as he glances at his own not nearly as impressive clock, and he watches the second hand tick away. If he holds his breath he can even hear the machine working.

Stiles had forgotten that no matter how scary the world is out there, it also held things that he would be willing to die to see.

The Plan comes together in a hurry. When the other man wakes up he is sitting in a metal chair, the pocket watch is gone, and he is tied with a copious amount of fabric. Seriously, it is a little embarrassing how overboard Stiles went. Blankets, shirts, jeans, pillowcases, you know it. The man looks more like a yarn ball than a thug at this point. And he looks angry.

“Good morning.” Stiles says, standing in front of the man, chin up proud and hand gripping the guitar neck like a lifeline. It doesn’t get him much of a response other than a glare, and Stiles hesitates, trying to think of what to say. “How’d you sleep?”

“What?” The guy finally speaks, his voice rough, and it makes Stiles’ skin pimple up in goosebumps. Maybe that was a stupid question. The man’s eyes, a greenish brown, look at the guitar neck in his hand. “Did you hit me in the head with a guitar?”

“Yeah, sorry about that...” Stiles stops himself, backtracking and speaking more firmly. He had to stand his ground, be sure of himself. “Yes. I did. Because you came into my house. Where you’re not allowed.”

The man lifts his head all the way to give Stiles a wary look, and he reminds himself that is a good thing. He should be wary of Stiles. Stiles can totally pull off intimidating. “Don’t worry... I won’t be here much longer.” Well, wait, that’s not what Stiles wanted. Or was it? No, definitely not. Because of The Plan.

“Actually...” Stiles trails off, raising his eyebrows, but all that gets him is further confused looks. “What’s your name?”

The man sighs, as if put upon. But Stiles does nothing but stare at him expectedly, so he eventually gives in. Score one for the basement dweller. “Derek.”

Stiles can’t help the smile that slides over his face, because one, Derek is an awesome name, and two, the guy is obviously warming up to him. “I’m Stiles. Derek, I have a proposition for you.” Stiles steps close, since Derek is still tied up, and crouches so that he can look up at him. “What can you tell me about the music that plays on the thirty-first?”

There’s a moment of tension in the air, their eyes meeting. Derek looks over his face, these scruffy eyebrows pushed together in thought, and Stiles can almost feel his heart skipping beats. He is so close to learning more. This is it. Derek opens his mouth, and... “What are you talking about?”

Stiles almost falls over. “The music? That plays every May thirty-first?” Derek continues to stare at him, and Stiles feels a sinking in his chest. “You seriously don’t know what I’m talking about?” He moves back to his feet fluidly walking away from his captive. His head hangs back and he covers his face. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Lydia jumps to the ground from one of her numerous high perches and he’s forlornly watching her go when Derek speaks again.

“Wait, are you talking about the Lost Lights? That orchestra over in the park?”

Stiles spins on his heel, rushing back over to where Derek is seated. Lydia jumps away from where she had rubbed against Derek’s legs, Stiles’ knees landing where she was standing. Long fingered hands sit on Derek’s as he leans close, excitedly, and Derek leans as far away as he can under the circumstances. “Orchestra, yes! You know where it is?”

“Yeah, it’s over in the pavilion at Harley Park. Right down the valley from here.” Derek is looking at him like he is crazy, and maybe Stiles is crazy. But he had never been so happy to hear something in his life.

“Lost Lights Orchestra...” He says reverently, closing his eyes as he tries to imagine it. Then he remembers he really shouldn’t close his eyes in front of this guy. “Can you take me there?”

“You want me...” Derek pauses as if for effect, waiting a beat. “...to take you...” He pauses again, and Stiles is starting to think this guy has an attitude problem. “...to an Orchestra?”

“Yeah. Can you?”

That is apparently the wrong response, because suddenly Stiles hears ripping sounds. He scrambles back as the fabric around Derek tears and falls to pieces, hands breaking free to pull the rest of his body free with strange strength. Could everyone on the outside do that? “I’m out. Sorry.”

Derek definitely didn't seem sorry, and as he turns to look around the room Stiles realizes he’s looking for the window. Abandoning his curiosity as to how Derek managed to break free, Stiles’ hand shoots out to grip Derek’s arm. “Wait! Why can’t you...?” Derek turns back to him quickly, glancing at Stiles’ hand, and then up to his face. The look is dark enough that Stiles pulls his hand away. “Taking the hand away. Sorry. And I completely promise to respect your personal space when you take me to hear the music.”

“Why in the world would I ever do that for you?” Derek asks, but it’s obviously a rhetorical question as he turns away from Stiles completely. He obviously found what he was looking for somehow, pulling the fabric down from the window.

Stiles has a moment of panic before he blurts out his last ditch effort. “I have your treasure!”

Derek’s hand pauses on the edge of the window, and he looks at Stiles over his shoulder. “My what?” And then Stiles sees the realization dawn on Derek’s face, soft rays of morning sunlight slowly trickling in through the window. His hands reach into his jacket pockets, and when they come out empty Stiles definitely has his attention.

“Yep, that’s right, big boy. I have it. And if you want it, you’re going to take me to see the Orchestra.”

“Or I could just hurt you until you tell me where it is. There’s always that option.”

Stiles is a little - or a lot - embarrassed by the sound that comes out from his mouth as Derek stalks closer to him. He takes a couple of steps backwards, arms flailing a bit as they tend to do, before making himself stop, swallowing around the lump of fear in his throat. He does everything he can to express his seriousness, from the way he stands to the way he speaks. “Try me. I won’t tell you. And you won’t find it either, I can promise you that. I’ve lived in this room all my life... I have more hiding places than you can believe.” That is a bit of a bluff, but not an outright lie, so he doesn’t feel too bad about it.

Derek stops walking forward, and Stiles knows he’s succeeded in expressing his seriousness. Finally, he opens his mouth, before closing it, and then trying again. “Please, enlighten me. Why can’t I just give you directions?”

Stiles licks his lips, brown eyes flicking up to stare at the window nervously, before looking back down at Derek. “I need you to protect me from the monsters.”

“The monsters?”

“Yeah. And thugs. And... criminals.”

Derek tilts his head to the side, as if considering Stiles in a special light. Stiles tries not to feel like an idiot as Derek looks around his home, but he does feel like everything he owns is being judged. “How do you know I’m not a criminal? A monster?” Derek finally asks.

“You don’t have the face of a criminal.” Stiles answers automatically, before gesturing up to his own jawline. “Except for the scruff... but I can give you a razor for that.”

Derek stares at him for a long time before answering. Or maybe it just feels like a long time to Stiles. He’s never handled scrutiny very well. “I can’t decide if you’re an idiot, or just naive.”

Stiles huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, that was rude. Let’s go for neither.” Derek doesn’t agree, because this ‘rude’ thing seems to be a near constant state of being. “Are you going to help me or not?”

Stiles hadn’t realized how close Derek had gotten until the bigger guy turns around and walks away, frustration on his face. Derek smells like outside. Is that a weird thing to think? Probably, but he did. He seems torn, and Stiles can logically guess why - on the one hand, he super seriously didn’t look like he wanted to help Stiles, for some reason. Maybe he has social anxiety or something. On the other hand, fancy, shiny treasure that probably belonged to Derek’s mother or some other important background is hidden away forever.

Stiles rocks back and forth on his feet, watching him anxiously until he finally turns around. “Fine. I take you, I bring you back, you give me the pocket watch, we go our separate ways.”

“Yes!” Lydia had gotten close to Derek’s legs again, but jumps and runs at Stiles’ yell. He can’t even feel bad, fist pump and jump and everything. Things are finally going his way. He throws himself onto the other side of his bed, scrambling down underneath it for his bag he’d packed. It now has a lot less clothes thanks to Derek’s muscle-y bragging - how in the world did he do that? - but it would still last him the three days until he got a chance to hear the music, and then he would be right back here. Safe, and sound.

The sound of gravel falling reaches his ears and he turns his head to see that Derek has already pulled himself up and out of the window. This guy has arms like Popeye. Stiles makes an unimpressed facial expression that he gets the vibe Derek might be mad at him for, which is why it’s behind his back, and pulls a chair up to the window. And then stops, staring up at the morning sun. With the dirty window gone, Stiles can see more of the alley than he’s ever been able to see before. The air is warm, like a really awesome, pleasant warm that makes Stiles want to be in it. But his feet are glued to the chair.

Lydia jumps up on the chair and looks up as well, before looking back at him. “What?” Stiles asks defensively. “You’re not going either.” She takes the challenge, much to Stiles’ chagrin, and jumps out the window. He mutters some choice words under his breath, and is interrupted by Derek’s voice as his feet show up in Stiles’ eyeline.

“Please tell me your cat isn’t coming with us.”

Stiles finally pushes himself to put his backpack on the ledge. “Of course my cat is coming with us!”

Stiles can hear the suffering in Derek’s sigh, and then the bag disappears. Derek’s knees are suddenly in front of him as well, the guy leaning much closer to him. “And are you coming with us, or...?”

“Yes...” Stiles really wishes he could move. But he’s suddenly thinking of his bed. Man, he loves his bed. It’s perfectly fit for his body. He has four different pillows, and his sheets are so freaking soft. He’s got the perfect set up. Where is he going to sleep for the next three days? What if the bed he does finally lay down on is so uncomfortable that he gets back problems? He’s about to turn eighteen in a couple of weeks, he’s practically an old man. Are back problems and hooligans and thugs and monsters really worth all of this?

His worries are interrupted when a hand appears in front of his face, fingers open and wanting for his own. He looks at it, seeing the swirls of his prints and slight dusting from the gravel. He hadn’t held someone’s hand in years, not since he was a kid and had panic attacks. Years and years ago, when Mama Jen stayed with him instead of adventuring out into the dangerous world. This is the hand of a man that survives in this world every day. Stiles takes it without a thought, his gut trusting the idea of Derek, and he wonders if he actually isn’t a bit naive.

The next second he’s yelling and flying. Derek pulls him straight up and out of the basement and then his feet are on gravel. He’s literally higher on the Earth than he’s ever been in his life and he clings to Derek’s hand like a lifeline. Wide eyes slowly look around the alleyway, and it’s... a little gross, honestly, but it’s the freaking alleyway. It’s outside of his home. He’s outside. He turns to Derek, and his face must have been making some weird shapes, because Derek looked semi-concerned. “I’ve never actually been outside of that room. Like… ever.”

It is Derek’s turn to make weird shapes with his face, and Stiles gets a good look at him in the morning sunlight. He has eyebrows that were able to express ‘incredulous’ like it was nobody’s business. They have a language of their own. They look insanely soft. Why didn’t Stiles have eyebrows like that? Was everyone out here as handsome as Derek? Stiles isn’t sure he is prepared for that. Literally everything out here looks beautiful. How is that possible? It is like he’s been living in darkness his whole life, and now he is seeing the light. The sun spreads over everything it touches, like water in every nook and cranny.

Stiles’ hand slowly lets go of Derek’s and he steps forward, eyes watching the way the gravel moves under his feet. His steps pick up faster, taking him straight out of the alley and to the street. It is all very plain, dirty, all greys and browns, and it is the best thing Stiles has ever seen in his life. He looks down excitedly to Lydia, and knowing she is following him he just keeps going, his eyes looking all around and taking in every detail he can. He almost feels overloaded, euphoric, with all of the stuff to take in and he rounds the corner of the street excitedly. The noise he’s suddenly met with makes him yell as something flies passed him, and he stumbles back, hitting Derek’s chest. Good to know the guy is following him. He looks up at him from where his hands cover his face, his heart hammering in his chest.

Derek raises an eyebrow, stupid expressive things. “That was a car.” He stops before speaking again. “Have you never seen a car before?”

“I know. I’ve seen one.” He swallows and pushes himself off of Derek’s chest. Brown eyes look down the street and sees the truck disappear over the hill. This street seems a little more alive, but not by much. “In books.”

His backpack is pushed into his chest roughly. “Let’s just go.”

-

The whole walking through a new world thing starts to get a little boring about thirty minutes in. At first, as he sticks very close to Derek’s annoyed side, it’s enough to make his thoughts fly around his head like a bouncy ball. Just taking in the sights, smells, feel of the air on his skin is enough. The ground is grungy and covered in odds and ends. The sidewalk is meticulously made with lines every few feet that, no matter how hard he tries, Stiles can’t fit three steps in perfectly. There are strange things that he isn’t even sure how to describe, and is too self-conscious to ask, like why a pair of shoes is hanging from wires in the sky. He also gets to marvel at Lydia exploring. She pounces and rolls, somehow keeping her daintiness. Even as she wanders she never strays too far. Eventually, even that isn’t enough to keep his mind from wandering, and the existential dread sets in over what he did.

“Do you think I’m a bad person?”

Even though they hadn't spoken for the whole time, Derek doesn’t answer with any sort of interest or enthusiasm. “Well, you hit me in the head with a guitar and you are blackmailing me, so yes.”

“No, not for that!” Stiles exclaims, and the guilt settles in his chest over that too. “I mean, for leaving Mama Jen behind.”

“Who the hell is Mama Jen?”

“She’s my mother! She’s taken care of me and kept me safe for eighteen years, and then I repay her by sneaking out the first thing in the morning while she’s gone. She’s going to show up looking for me and I’m not going to be there.”

Derek turns to him with a scowl on his face, but then his expression brightens. “If you changed your mind, I’ll happily take you back.” He says, jumping on the opportunity. “We could pretend none of this ever happened. Just give me the pocket watch and we’ll call it even.”

It’s Stiles’ turn to frown, but he probably doesn’t pull it off as well as Derek does. “Yeah, nice try, pal. Not going to happen.” Derek’s words actually do help his resolve. It puts him back on track. He did all of this for a reason, and the idea of it going away reminds him how badly he wants it. “Speaking of, what's the story about that thing anyways?” At one point, Mama Jen used the phrase, ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and it practically traumatized Stiles. He has since decided it doesn’t actually mean anything, because he has a pretty serious case of curiosity and Lydia is safe and now tangling herself between their legs, much to Derek’s chagrin. “I got a good look at it... you know, before it went in that hiding place you’ll never find again.”

“There is no story.” Stiles waits for Derek to speak again, staring at him expectantly, because if Derek thinks he’ll be able to get away with one sentence answers for the next couple of days, boy is he sorely mistaken. “It’s just worth a lot of money.”

“I bet! Did you see that thing shine? What do you need all of that money for?”

“To get far away from people like you.”

Man, this guy is surly. Stiles feels a bit of indignation. “You don’t even know me!”

That apparently didn’t matter to Derek. “It doesn't matter. I’ve been forced to deal with idiots my whole life. My goal is to have enough money to get far, far away from everyone so stuff like this...” He gestures, somewhat violently, between them. “...never happens again.”

“I’m pretty sure you just called me an idiot.” Stiles makes sure to state that first and foremost, so Derek doesn’t think for a second it went over the awkward basement person’s head. Then, he takes a second to honestly think about what Derek says. Looking over him, he could match the mentality to his face. Derek keeps looking over his shoulder, suspicious of every noise and sometimes acting like he hears stuff Stiles doesn’t, worried even though they’d only seen two people outside of cars this entire time. Stiles could totally imagine this guy secluded in some cabin in the woods away from civilization. Maybe even as a lumberjack. “You know, seclusion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Take it from someone who knows.”

“Then why did you stay so long? Why are you only leaving now?” Derek seems almost disappointed in himself for asking, trying so hard to act like he doesn’t care about anything.

“I never wanted to… disappoint, Mama Jen.” He realizes this is a turn of events that needs to change the way he thinks... or the way he lies to himself. It never came down to just disappointing her. He very rarely ever made her proud. It was just in the last couple of years that he started to come to terms with the truth. “Or make her mad.”

The last sentence gets Derek’s attention, and Stiles tries not to look away from his stare, not wanting to shy away from the idea. He opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, before seemingly changing his mind. “Why do you call her that?”

“What?”

“Mama Jen.”

“That’s what she told me to call her.” Stiles is surprised by the subject change, and pretty confused. “What am I supposed to call her?”

“I don’t know. How about mom?”

“Is that what you call your mom?”

Derek’s quasi-interest shuts down pretty quickly after that question, and he turns to look forward. “Let’s just keep walking. We’ve got a couple more miles.”

It doesn’t take a genius to pick up on why Derek stopped talking. The mother train of thought is officially not something that should be ridden on Derek’s tracks. Or whatever. A ‘couple more miles’ sounds like a pain in his all-over-body, and his calves are already burning. It’s not like he has a habit of walking long distances. Stiles is down for putting up with it though, just because of the low growl that was in Derek’s voice. How he managed that, Stiles isn’t sure he wants to know. They keep going, Derek only eventually breaking his silence to yell at Lydia for getting in the way of his feet. Lydia isn’t phased, and Stiles tries not to judge her for how much she likes to rub her body against his jeans. He also doesn’t admit how much he likes to see Derek get riled up.

He’s purposefully trying not to think of that when he’s suddenly pulled into an alleyway. His body is pressed against the wall behind a dumpster... and honestly, he’s torn between marveling at how fast that happened and being absolutely terrified. He looks the small distance up at Derek’s face, but Derek is looking out where they came in. Stiles’ own eyes follow his and he stares at the entrance to the alley for a few long seconds too, and just as he starts to think nothing is going to happen a car slowly drives by and passes them. Derek’s hand that had been firmly planted over his mouth disappears and Stiles takes a deep breath before he lets his exact thoughts out with the air.

“Can you please tell me why in the world we just hid in an alley from a cop car?”

Derek turns his head quickly, a genuine expression of surprise on his face. Stiles really looks at him, and realizes that all the grumpiness makes him seem older, but he is probably close to Stiles’ age. “How do you know what a cop car looks like?”

“I told you I read books!” He places his hands on Derek’s chest and shoves, which did about as good as shoving a basement wall. Which he has done before. But Derek takes the hint and steps backwards to give Stiles room. Lydia jumps on top of the dumpster, staring at Derek just like Stiles is. “Only criminals and thugs run from cops, Derek!”

“I am not a thug.” Derek says firmly, crossing his arms.

Nothing else comes after that and Stiles starts to jump in place at the exhaustive energy in his body at the realization. He points at Derek accusingly. “You’re a criminal! Oh my god, you’re a criminal!” He turns in place, pushing his head up against the wall and immediately regretting the action as the rough brick hits his forehead. “Oh god, I left my house with a criminal. I blackmailed a criminal into protecting me from criminals!”

“Are you done?”

“No!” Stiles spins back around to face him. “What’d you do? What do they want to arrest you for?”

Derek stares him down, but this time Stiles isn’t even close to flinching. They watch each other until Derek finally relents, jaw sticking out as he gives in. “The pocket watch you have isn’t exactly mine. I lifted it from a display case downtown.”

Stiles gasps, thinking back to where he hid the beautiful piece. Why did he ever think it was actually Derek’s? “You’re a liar!”

“I am not!” Derek defends himself quickly. “I never told you it was mine, I just told you it was worth a lot of money.”

“I’m hoarding a lying criminal’s score. I’m practically an accomplice! I should go wave them down and give it to them!”

Derek takes a step forward and Stiles stops talking. It looks for a moment like what Derek is going to say is going to be particularly violent, so Stiles ends up being pleasantly surprised. “You wave them down, or you give it to them, then I leave you here and you get to go back home to your crazy Mama Jen. How about that?”

One, Stiles doesn’t super appreciate him calling Mama Jen crazy. Only Stiles is allowed to do that. And two... the guy has a freaking point. Stiles huffs, his turn to cross his arms arriving. “Fine. You’re right. You’re still a liar, though.”

“Are you going to give it to them? Or are you going to honor our agreement?”

Derek is staring at him intently, even though Stiles basically just answered that. “I won’t give it to them. I promise.” He says with a raised eyebrow, and for some reason that was a satisfactory answer because Derek nods once and turns to walk away.

Just a couple more miles, Stiles. A couple more.

-

By the time Derek stops walking, Stiles is pretty sure he’s half dead. His legs are killing him, and his mind is driving him crazy. Derek hadn’t started talking again once for the next two miles, and they had to jump into alleys twice more the way they were going. Lydia seems just as annoyed, the joy of being in the sun waning about a mile ago. While he knew that his trip probably wouldn’t be perfect, so far it’s a whole lot more boring than he expected. They stop outside of a building and Stiles looks at Derek for a second, before turning to the structure itself. It is nondescript, brick walls and boarded up windows. There is no sign indicating what is inside, and Stiles leans against Derek’s side as he catches his breath. “This.. is not the orchestra.”

“Did you want to sit in the park for three days?” Derek asks, but it’s obviously a rhetorical question as he walks ahead of Stiles and towards the door. A fisted hand raises to rap sharply on the metal, and they wait. Just when Stiles is about to ask what they are waiting for, a small square in the door slides away and a set of brown eyes stares out at Derek.

“Password.” The female voice demands, and Derek’s frown somehow manages to get more pronounced.

“Seriously?” He gestures between his chest and the door violently. “You can see me.”

“Password.”

“Malia, I swear to God.”

“Password.”

They have a staring contest for what Stiles would guess is almost a minute before Derek finally forces the words out. “Peter’s pack.”

The small hole is covered, and after a few clicks the door opens. On the other side is a tall girl with short brown hair, and a no nonsense type of face. “Why do you always argue? It’s not hard to say. It’s two words.”

Derek leans close to her face as he walks in, as if to threaten her, but she seems unfazed. Maybe people get used to Derek’s attitude the longer they are around him. “Because the password is always ridiculous.”

“Peter was trying to call you.”

“And I don’t have a phone. See how well that worked out.” They are walking inside, Stiles following behind Derek like a lost puppy, and this Malia gives him a strange look as he walks in. They go down a long and dark hall before stepping into a large room in the end. The lack of windows makes his chest feel tight, reminding him of the basement. It reminds him that he had been free and in the open air.

“What happened to your phone?” A curly haired man asks quietly as soon as they step inside the room. He’s standing right by the door, and is dressed ridiculously, in Stiles’ inexpert opinion, a scarf around his neck. It’s not even cold out. The room is dark, only firelight shining on the walls. A blonde girl is laying on top of a dark skinned man on a couch, and a narrow faced guy is staring at them with a sour face over a counter on the far side of the room. Before he can dissect his expression a hand closes over Stiles’ shoulder to stop him in his steps. “And who is this?”

“Hands off, Isaac.” Derek demands as Stiles looks at him warily. There’s a dangerous growl to Derek’s voice, and this isn’t the first time Stiles has heard it. Apparently, it’s not the first time Isaac has heard it either and the boy removes his hand, but not before getting a sharp hiss from Lydia. “He’s a… we have a deal. We’ll be staying here for a couple of days, and then he’ll be going home.” Derek gestures to each person in turn. “Erica, Boyd,” he says as he references the couple - which they must be together, judging from where one pair of legs starts and the other finishes. “Jackson.” That’s the sour faced man in the back. “This is Stiles. Strange, spastic, recluse. Be nice.”

Stiles had been smiling, but pause the action to glare at the description he’s given. “Yeah... sure. That’s me.”

“Come, take a seat, enlighten us.” Erica says, gesturing to the other empty couch. Stiles takes a seat, dropping his bag on the couch as Lydia jumps into his lap, and Derek chooses to stand. Which seems oddly fitting to who Derek seems to be as a person. Malia comes back in and crawls over the back, curling up in a ball in the corner next to Stiles as Erica continues to talk. “So, your phone... did you break it after I sent you that joke about dogs in heat?”

The curling smile over her ruby red lips isn’t shared on Derek’s face. “No. And you need to stop doing that.”

“No, I bet he lost it on the job.” Her pout is interrupted by Boyd, giving Derek an expecting look. When nothing further comes Boyd laughs. “C’mon, man, was it you? Did you take that watch?”

Derek crosses his arms, but gradually gives in. “Yes. I did.”

“Really?!” Erica exclaims, bouncing in her seat. “I knew it! You’re such a jerk, why didn’t you tell us? At a charity auction, too.” She holds out a manicured hand. “Let me see it.”

There’s a banging sound on the opposite side of the room, and Stiles realizes that Jackson left, and not happily. “What’s his problem?” He asks, fingers curling into Lydia’s fur rhythmically. Isaac is suddenly next to Derek, practically hanging on Derek’s side.

“Jackson's mad because Ethan and Aiden were planning to steal it.” Stiles has no idea who they are, but Isaac is turning around to look at Derek. “Did you know that?”

“No. I didn’t. I didn’t actually know it was a charity auction, either. I thought it was just on display. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision.” Derek looks slightly uncomfortable. “And I don’t have it. It’s safe, until the heat dies down.” The lie comes out smoothly, but his eyes go to Stiles briefly.

Stiles feels something on his side and jumps, realizing Malia is feeling his pockets. “Hey!” He exclaims, pulling away from her.

“Are you safe? Is that where it is?” Malia’s voice is deadpan, but Erica is laughing, so apparently it’s funny.

“Stop.” Malia does, and Derek rolls his eyes. “Listen, where’s Peter?”

“Gone. No idea where. Didn’t care to ask. Won’t be back until tomorrow night.” Malia lists the sentences on fingers as if answering questions she knows is coming and Derek huffs.

“Fantastic. Stiles. Come on.”

Stiles doesn’t need to be told twice, scrambling to his feet and following him out of the room. They find a staircase and go to the top, Stiles catching up to whisper, “Are they always like that?”

“Or worse.” They find a room at the end of the hall and Derek opens the door, pulling Stiles inside. “Listen, it’s just too heavy outside right now. They are keeping a close eye out for me. Give it a couple of days and then I’ll take you into town, alright?”

Stiles honestly isn’t bothered. He is in a bedroom. With a window. An actual window. Sure, as he sets his bag down and runs up to it, he hesitates from the broken glass, but it’s ten times better than the dust and the shade of an alleyway. Derek even has a bunch of the same stuff Stiles does.. a bookcase, a bed, a dresser. But it’s so much better. He throws himself down onto Derek’s bed, right next to where Lydia had stationed herself, and it's as soft as his own bed at home. “Yeah, okay. That’s fine.”

Derek's nose wrinkles. “That’s my bed.”

“I know.”

“Okay, then.” Stiles isn’t sure what Derek expected him to do, but he is starting to realize there is no use worrying about it. “Listen, don’t let them get to you. They like to press buttons. It’s fun for them. Especially for people like...” He gestures towards Stiles, and Stiles realizes he’s too tired to understand what that’s supposed to mean. He didn’t sleep at all last night, and the night before he was up until the sun came up, worried. “...you. We’ll just stay in here until it’s time to leave and it’ll be fine.”

Stiles is pretty sure there was more to that plan, but it fell on deaf ears. Or asleep ones, at least.

-

When Stiles wakes up, he’s drooling all over what’s not his pillow and the sun is on his face. He was having dreams of deep voices in his ear, screaming mothers, and beautiful gold watches. He has a moment of panic, not knowing where he is, before the events of the day before rush back to him. He had attacked someone, blackmailed them, ran away, and is now hiding out with criminals. He is a delinquent, officially. He’s the number one enemy on Mama Jen’s list, and he no longer knows how far she will take his punishment. And, more importantly, he is in too far to turn back now. He’s in it to win it.

He’s also in it for whatever he’s smelling right now. He thinks maybe that’s what wakes him up, the delicious scents wafting up the stairs and into the room that he’s pretty sure belonged to Derek. He turns to Lydia, who seems just as eager to explore with him. The sun looked different than it did before he passed out - which wow, did he pass out, he felt like he slept like the dead - but he couldn’t say for the life of him what time it is. He goes down the stairs impulsively, purposefully forgetting what Derek said before about staying upstairs, and eventually his nose brings him to a swinging door.

He pushes it open and he’s greeted by all of the people from the night before, but this time in more light than candles, and surprised faces.

“Good morning, sunshine. Enjoy Derek’s bed?”

It was Erica who spoke first, and Stiles can feel his face start to burn at the idea of hogging Derek’s bed before it sinks in what she said. “Did I sleep all night?” It couldn’t have been more than early afternoon when they got here... was that really possible?

“Yes. You did.” There was the gruff voice from the day before. Derek sat at the end of the table, and he did not look happy. Stiles wondered vaguely where he slept. “What are you doing down here?”

Why was he down here again? Oh right, the smell. The smell that is coming from the table, which is covered in plates and bowls of food. Some foods he has never even seen before. There is fresh fruit, but there is also stuff that is fully cooked. He recognizes that’s what it is and he can feel that drool start up again. “I’m starving.”

“I was going to bring you a plate. I think -”

Derek’s voice is interrupted by Malia getting out of the seat next to him and moving into the kitchen area that Stiles can see through a wide hole in the wall. Isaac is standing inside watching him curiously as Malia speaks. “Go ahead, Stiles, eat up. Breakfast is important if you are going on a job.”

“Which he’s not.” Derek states firmly.

Stiles doesn’t need to be told twice to sit, and he takes the seat, not sure where to even start. “What is all of this?”

“It’s food. You eat it.” Boyd’s answer is plain and Stiles looks around to see him getting varied looks of judgement. Especially from Jackson.

“I know that!” He did know that. He totally understands that it is food, and what you are supposed to do with it. He just didn't know what kind of food. His eyes finally land on Derek, who still looks grumpy that he’s even downstairs. “I wasn’t allowed to have a microwave. Or fire. For my safety, of course. So, I mostly ate cold food.”

“Where did you say you found him again?” There’s another amused smile toying on Erica’s red lips, and he’s glad someone is getting a kick out of this. “A convent? An insane asylum?”

“I didn’t say.” Derek reaches over Stiles and starts to spoon stuff onto his plate. “Scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes.”

That all sounded good to him. He’s had hard boiled eggs before, done up and given to him for his ice box, but hadn’t had them hot. Or scrambled. Damn they tasted good. He takes one bite after another until they are all gone, and then he takes a bit of the bacon. “Oh, gross...” He mutters as grease covers his tongue and he chews the crispy bits, before setting it down.

“Who doesn’t like bacon?” Isaac asks with heavily laden judgement, shaking his head. Malia steps back into the room with a small bowl, setting it on the ground and calling until Lydia runs over to eat as well.

“I’m guessing someone who hasn’t grown up eating lard.” Derek responds, raising an eyebrow.

“Are you comparing my food to lard?” Isaac asks.

“Some of it.”

Stiles watches the way Derek speaks, breaking into the potatoes. Everyone else starts to cut in too, and Stiles is fascinated as they all talk and work together at once. It was like a game almost, topping each other and laughing, instinctively knowing what to say and how to say it. By the time the conversation starts to die down he’s eating bacon again.

“I thought you said it was gross?”

“It is,” he furrows his eyebrows at Boyd in response, honestly confused. “But I can’t stop eating it.”

Isaac gives a completely fake triumphant laugh, raising fists in the air. “I will hook you on unhealthy food yet, Stiles. Just you wait.”

The mirth that response brings, as well as the indignation what Derek can’t say Isaac’s food is unhealthy even though Isaac himself admits it, is interrupted by Jackson.

“So, let’s talk about the watch.”

Sentences die off and Stiles feels a bit awkward, especially since he’s sitting between Jackson and Derek. The tension between the two is palpable, and Stiles looks over as Derek starts to speak, nervously chewing. “Let’s not.”

Isaac and Malia share a look before he speaks up. “Here we go...”

“No, I really think we should.” Jackson turns in his seat, to face Derek fully. The only thing between them is Stiles and he leans back in his seat all the way. He scoots back a few inches too. “So, you knew Ethan was planning on heisting the watch, and you took it anyways, and now you don’t even have the decency to show us? What’s up with that?”

“Would you two just drop it?” Boyd asks, and the way he talks makes it sound like Derek and Jackson get like this sometimes.

“No, seriously!” Jackson holds up his hand to Boyd, and it’s all fairly disrespectful. “That’s what we always do. We grab stuff, and we bring it here, and we show off. It’s tradition. So, where is it?”

“As I said - it’s in a safe spot, until the heat dies down.”

“This isn’t a safe spot?”

“That’s not what I said. I just decided to use a different one this time.”

All of a sudden Stiles is the center of attention as Jackson turns to him. “And what about this guy? What does he have to do with it? We’ve never see him before, he knows about the watch, and he’s some kind of freak who’s never eaten hot food before?”

“Hey, I’m not a freak!”

“Yes, you are. And I have no idea why you’re here.” Stiles glances over at Derek, but Derek is staring straight ahead. Stiles isn’t sure if that’s the go to response to Jackson, or what, but Stiles wishes he would do something. Jackson is getting angry at being ignored. He pretty quickly figures out a way to let it out in the form of slamming his hand on Stiles chest. “Maybe I can get the answers from him, huh?”

Stiles is getting pretty tired of being pushed around, and his hand covers Jackson’s quickly. That’s where his courage stops, however, because Jackson’s hand feels funny and when Stiles looks down he has claws. Like, monster claws. Everything happens really quickly after that. Derek is pushing forward with a snarl, throwing Jackson’s hand away. Stiles would be impressed by Derek trying to protect him if Derek’s teeth weren’t suddenly much sharper and his eyes blue. Seriously. Glowing blue.

Stiles pushes away so fast the chair topples over and he turns tail and runs. Sometimes, he starts to feel like he’s processing things, that he can handle anything this new world throws at him. It’s only a couple of days, right? But things like this happen and it sends him on his head. His heart is beating so fast he can barely breathe, but he ends up back in Derek’s room, because he has nowhere else he can go. He’s sitting on Derek’s bed, head in his hands, counting his breaths, when Derek shows up.

“Stiles..” Derek says warily and Stiles is already shaking his head.

“Anything else you want to tell me, Derek? Huh?” He finally lifts his head. “First you're a good guy, then you’re a criminal, and now you’re one of the monsters I told you I needed to be protected from!”

“Let’s get one thing straight.” His voice is rough and threatening, but he doesn’t come any closer to Stiles, giving him his space. “I may be a criminal, but I’m not a monster.”

“You had fangs, Derek!”

“I’m a werewolf!”

The term for it makes Stiles shut his mouth for a minute, but in the end he’s not sure what it really changes. “What’s the difference?”

Derek watches him, as if he’s putting serious thought into his answer. “A monster chooses to do monstrous things. I was born this way. So was Malia and Boyd. Just because we have fangs doesn’t make us dangerous. At least, not to everyone.”

As much as Stiles hates it, it makes sense. Mama Jen had raised him to know what to fear.. that the streets were filled with people who would hurt him. People who would learn about his abilities and use him for their own gain. This warning included the monsters that looked just like Derek. Monsters that were greedy, selfish, and terrible. He’d never imagined them to be handsome in leather jackets. But dark and dangerous? Yes. Mama Jen’s words fall flat when he thinks about the last day, though. Derek tried to protect him from Jackson, Stiles slept in his bed all night and Derek didn’t try to hurt him, Derek agreed to take Stiles to see the music. Was it all because of the pocket watch? Maybe. But wouldn’t a mindless monster not even agree to that? “Okay.”

“What?”

“I said okay.” Stiles is breathing deeper now, calming down. “I believe you.”

Derek seems mostly surprised at how quickly Stiles gives in. His firmly crossed arms fall to the side and he walks forward, sitting next to him on the bed. “That easy?”

Stiles nods, turning to face him as he leans his elbows on his knees. “Yeah... you actually said that really well. It makes a lot of sense.”

Derek nods slowly, but he mostly looks at the ground. Stiles’ mind starts to try to figure out something else to say after a bit, but Derek speaks again. “My mom taught me that.”

“Your mom?” Stiles remembers how uncomfortable it had been when Derek’s mom had been brought up before, but this time it was Stiles bringing it up.

“Before she died she taught me a lot. Her and my sister. After what happened, I had my uncle still, and my cousin, but I never learned nearly as much from them as I did from my mom.”

Derek seems calm and collected but his fingers are grasped together. Stiles speaks quietly, not wanting to ruin the moment. “Your mom and your sister... they were like you?”

“They were.”

“How did they die?” He’s asking before he can think twice, and winces a little bit. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“They were werewolves.” Derek shrugs, but Stiles’ face must show that he doesn’t understand. “Some people - like your mother - really do believe we can only be monsters. And monsters are better off dead.”

It makes him uncomfortable to think that he could have been one of those people. Mama Jen was teaching him things without him ever being able to see it for himself, and he could have gone his whole life spreading the kind of hatred that caused Derek to lose his family. “Well... I hope you know you changed one person’s mind.”

Derek still doesn’t look at him, but his lips curl up slightly and it makes Stiles feel warm with pride. If he can get Derek to smile, he could probably do anything. Lydia, who Stiles hadn’t even noticed had followed them, jumps onto the bed and crawls onto Derek’s lap and the other guy sighs. “Your cat likes me entirely too much.” But his smile doesn't go away, and Stiles has one to match.

The smiles disappears quickly, though, and Derek is looking out the window. His head is tilted slightly and it’s almost like he can hear something... which, Stiles realizes with the earlier reveal, might be exactly true. He’d read that dogs had good hearing. Would Derek be offended if he’s compared to a dog? Derek slowly rises to his feet and Stiles starts to get worried, which just gets worse as feet slam up the steps.

The door flies open and Isaac is there, out of breath. “Listen, I’m guessing from all the secrecy, something about this isn’t supposed to be happening...” Isaac gestures between the two of them, and Stiles moves to stand. “But I think Jackson had Ethan call the police.”

“That snake.”

Isaac doesn’t argue with the term. “I’d hurry.. it’s Parrish.”

The curse word that falls from Derek’s lips is one Stiles had only heard when Mama Jen accidentally hurt herself, so he knows this is bad. Derek takes his hand and they are off, down the stairs. But instead of through the front door, they are going back, back through the living area in which Stiles had met everyone, back through the door that Jackson had disappeared through the night before. It’s another hallway, and it ends in a door that opens into a staircase going down, down, down.

“Where are we going?” Stiles asks frantically, trying to keep up with Derek and squeezing his hand tightly. If the police found him, what would happen? They didn’t have the pocket watch... did they have any proof? What about Stiles himself? Would they know to bring him back to Mama Jen? This couldn’t be the end of the ride, not yet. Derek shushes him and Stiles listens for once, keeping his mouth closed. “Lydia, come on!” He calls out, but a turn of the head shows she’s right there with them. Bless that cat.

They end up in a basement, but one that looks much different from Stiles’. It was covered in wood, and had barrels and boxes all over. Derek runs straight to a far window and as he works to slide it open, Stiles hears commotion, probably from the hallway. “Derek...” He warns quietly, but then the window is ajar and Derek is grabbing Stiles, first guiding him and Lydia through the opening before following.

He’s not sure how this happened, unless there was just a massive hill behind the building they were in, but they come out on level ground. Stiles has no idea where to go so he follows Derek. How many times had Derek done this before? It’s terrifying, and Stiles’ legs are sore from the day before, but his feet continue to pound the pavement of the streets.

“Hold it!” A voice commands from a distance and Derek is taking Stiles’ hand again as two shots ring out, one hitting the wall above him and making the material splinter above his head. He manages not to scream, barely, and then they are running, cutting in and out of side roads, and at one point, over a fence with the help of Derek’s insane muscles.

Eventually, Stiles can’t do it anymore. He stumbles, falling to his knees. “I can’t...” But Derek shushes him again, this time covering his mouth like the day before, and they stay like that for a long while. But no sounds show up, and eventually Derek falls to sit next to Stiles in the dirt. As soon as he removes his hand, Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. “Are we okay?” He looks up at Derek, but Derek’s skin is grey, his own breath unable to be caught. “Are you okay?”

“Help me get my jacket off.” The words are strained, and Stiles’ hands immediately shoot out to help. He notices a tear in the sleeve, but the inside is even worse. There’s a line along Derek’s arm, right under the sleeve of his green shirt, where the skin is open like he’d been cut. But the edges are already growing dark and it didn't look right, at all. Black lines are bleeding down Derek’s arm, and Stiles knows it’s his veins. Derek wraps his fingers around the wound, and his face showed how badly it hurt. “I got grazed by one of their bullets.”

“You got shot?!” No, no, no, Derek couldn’t get shot. Derek is a good guy, with cute stories about his mom, and pretty much Stiles’ only friend. Not to mention, the only person who had agreed to take him to the music. “Why does it look like that? Are you going to die?”

“It’s something called wolfsbane.” The toll the wound, or rather the substance that the wound is infected with, is taking on Derek is obvious, but still he talks calmly, walking Stiles through it. “It’s a substance that hurts werewolves. They have special bullets coated with them. Makes it so we can’t heal.”

The idea that Derek could normally heal himself from regular injuries is new. His eyes travel up to Derek’s head, where Stiles had hit him with his guitar. Derek hadn’t complained once about his head, not even after he woke up, and now Stiles knew why. This wound, however, is magical. “So, what do we do?” Derek doesn’t have an immediate solution and it scares Stiles. Lydia is right next to Derek, not wanting to leave his side, and that scares him too. “Is it going to kill you?”

“They use a low grade strand, so it’ll poison me for days first. I have three, maybe four days before I have to go to a hospital. And then they’ll know what I’ve been shot with and call the cops.”

That is the plan, that’s why they shot him. Stiles feels a little relieved that the ‘Parrish’ guy wasn’t necessarily shooting to kill, but it doesn’t give them many options. Derek is already looking weak and shaken, his arm jerking under his own touch. It had to have hurt so badly, and Stiles isn’t sure what to do. His body, however, knew. His fingers start to warm, and he looks down at his hands. It’s time for him to pull his own weight around here. This is undocumented territory, but his innate instincts told him to try.

“Let me see it.” Derek’s eyes had fallen closed, but they open now, looking at Stiles with concern. Derek has trust issues, Stiles knew that. Why else would he want to hide in some cabin in the woods away from everybody? But as Stiles moves his hands to cover the hand attached to Derek’s injured arm, Derek slowly lets go of the wound, showing it to the open air again. He seems like he wants to cancel that decision as soon as he feels how warm Stiles’ fingertips are.

“What are you doing?”

“Just... trust me, okay?” Surprisingly enough, Derek does.

Or at least, far enough that he lets Stiles do his thing, whatever that thing may be. Maybe he can already feel it working. Stiles, though insanely curious, had never asked Mama Jen what it felt like when he fixed her. His fingers were warm as soon as they touched Derek’s hands, so Derek could surely feel other things as well, right? And hopefully only good things. Stiles had never healed much more than scrapes and cuts on himself, plus the occasional clumsy bruise. This type of injury is a lot different, but his body urges him forward. It’s as if his body is telling his mind, ‘You can do this! You can fix this! You can help him!’

He starts with Derek’s palm. Thumbs press into the meaty middle, making Derek’s hand curl and uncurl with the movements, before he starts up the arm. Derek’s skin is soft, and his wrist is strong. He runs over the bones, and he feels the muscles and tendons of Derek’s arm contract beneath his magic. Derek’s arm turns towards him, and he knows he’s being watched, but he continues forward. He does a slow trek up the arm, over the veins that are gradually losing the dark color, until he reaches the inner elbow, instinctively giving small circles into the joints and sockets to get them to relax. Up the bicep, a hard, defined muscle, and then he’s to the wound. He realizes now that his hands have already started glowing and the wound is too.

“What...?”

Stiles shakes his head, not wanting Derek to distract him from what he’s learning how to do. He is experiencing something new as he goes, following his instincts, and it’s working. Stiles massages the skin around the wound, circling it carefully. Gradually, something black, like ashes in liquid form, start to seep from the hole and Stiles can only think about how much that didn’t belong inside of Derek’s body, how foreign and dangerous it is. But with concentration it starts to glow too, and then it is so bright that it disappears, nothing left but a cut in the skin.

Stiles has a moment where he knows the magic in Derek, his own healing abilities, are working with Stiles, and he watches as the wound closes itself up until there’s not even a scar left behind. He can almost feel Derek’s magic, like an extension of Derek himself. It’s cold - not like a frigid bite of ice, but like a cooling breeze on a summer day. It’s the exact opposite of Stiles’ warmth, and yet when they combine it gives Stiles hints of the most exquisite feeling. He works with Derek’s magic, letting it guide him, until Derek’s arm is solid and healthy, like brand new.

And then he stops. His fingers separate from where they had been so deeply pressed against Derek’s skin, and the space between them makes the warmth vanish like smoke. There’s less space between them than he thinks though, lifting his head to see just how close they are. Derek’s eyes are a complicated hazel and green, and they are looking at Stiles in shock and wonderment. It makes Stiles feel settled, confident that he accomplished something, that he did something good.

“How did you do that?” Derek asks breathlessly.

Stiles swallows and reluctantly moves back away from him, transferring from his knees to his bottom in the dusty alleyway. “I’ve always been able to help people like that, ever since I can remember. It’s what makes me unique.”

Derek finally looks away from Stiles and examines his arm, twisting and turning it as if it was all a play of the light, an optical illusion that would disappear. “Thank you.” He finally utters when he’s certain it’s real, and Stiles smiles. “I don’t know what I did to deserve that.”

“We’re partners in crime now, right? If I’m aiding and abetting, I might as well get a better title.” He’s teasing, and he thinks Derek knows that. “Mama Jen keeps me hidden so that people don’t find out I can do that and try to hurt me. So, she’s really the only person I’ve ever helped, other than myself. It was nice... to be able to help someone else.”

“You’re very good at it. Helping others. It’s nice that you have abilities that can only ever help.”

They have a moment together, in the shadowed dust, that Stiles knows he’ll remember as the start of something. Friendship, maybe? It doesn’t feel like friendship, it feels so much deeper, but other than Lydia who is now pretending to sleep between Derek’s legs, he’s never had a friend before. Stiles feels happy knowing Derek isn’t scared off by him, and there's no sign of nefarious planning. Derek doesn’t want Stiles to help him... Derek wants Stiles to help others. What’s less selfish than that?

-

The rest of the day is a bit of a scrap. They hide out for a long while, and only when Derek is sure, and Stiles’ stomach is growling too loud to ignore, do they finally venture out. Derek says he can hear the cop car, especially Parrish’s, which has a small defect in the engine. There is nothing to be heard, so they start walking again. Derek lets Stiles know that they had inadvertently run away from the direction they needed to to be heading, and Stiles makes sure to bemoan that fact for several long minutes, and then he complains anew when he realizes he left his bag in Derek’s room. Derek finds a small diner, one he seems to be familiar with just like the rest of these roads and buildings, and he has Stiles wait outside before he returns with a bag of food. It is hot, it is called a burger, and Stiles is in love. The side of ‘curly fries’ cinches it, grease and all.

Derek did find them a better place to hang out than a dirty alley, but it is essentially a dirty park. Stiles starts to wonder if everything in the world is this dirty. It is barely bigger than a building, but it has trees surrounding it. It did, however, feel safe, even if Derek did seem still on edge. The grass isn’t very well maintained, but Lydia enjoys it anyway, and Stiles watches her hunt, wondering if he had been unfair to keep her with him all these years. Animals deserve nature, and sunshine. Lydia had never tried to leave him, but maybe she should have.

“Do you think Lydia could come and visit you after I go back home?” He asks, hoping he isn’t waking Derek up as the other lays back on a picnic table. But Derek doesn’t so much as jump.

“What do you mean?”

“She’s so happy out here, and she really likes you. Maybe we could have some kind of shared custody agreement.”

Derek doesn’t answer for a bit and then slowly sits up. “First of all, the last thing I want is that cat rubbing up against me twenty four seven.” Stiles is starting to think that’s all bravado, but he doesn’t mention it. “Second of all - are you sincerely planning on going back there?”

“Of course I am.”

“Why?”

The question catches Stiles off guard, but after a moment he shrugs. “It’s my home.”

“But she’s kept you down there this entire time, and now you get to see all of these new things, see the world for what it is.. how could you consider going back to how you were before?”

“She’s my family. She’s all I have.” The unending trust he had in Mama Jen is waning fast, but that didn’t change the fact that she is his mother. She kept him safe and alive all these years. There were things that she had lied about, sure, but until he talks to her, he won’t know why she did. Maybe it was all just to protect him. “The way I see it... I’ve gotten out. Nothing can change that now. So, I need to do what I need to do, and then go back and reason with her. If I made it out and made it back safe, I don't know why she wouldn't let me do it again... right?”

Derek seems unconvinced, and Stiles tries to remind himself that his opinion doesn't matter in the end. It feels a lot like his opinion does, though. Mostly because Stiles himself is unsure. Derek hit the nail on the head with his own opinions. Now that Stiles has seen what the world could show, how could he ever go back to what he knew before? He craves knowledge like a drowning man craves air, and there is so much out here for him to learn.

“I’ll be right back,” Derek says, standing and walking away towards the tall trees. Stiles sighs, watching him go, and wondering if Derek is as disappointed that Stiles won’t be here as Stiles is disappointed he won’t be. He starts to get antsy as time passes. For a guy who spent most of his life alone, he got used to having company all the time really quickly. Before he can jump out of his skin, Derek is returning, two large things under each arm and a white plastic-y bag.

“Where’d all this come from?”

“Isaac. He must have been looking for us.”

“How did you know he was there?” Derek flicks his ear and Stiles nods, remembering the hearing thing. “What is it all?”

“Sleeping bags and dinner. Not great dinner, but dinner nonetheless. Hope you don’t mind sleeping outside tonight.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose, staring around him. “Outside?” It’s probably embarrassing how much he loves his bed and his pillows and his blankets, but dreams take sacrifice, right? If Derek, whose own bed is like a marshmallow dream, could sleep outside, then Stiles could too. “I can do that.”

They mostly are forced to waste time after that, which Stiles is incredibly good at. He finds out Peter is Derek’s uncle, the alpha of the werewolves they had met, and Malia is Peter’s daughter, so Derek’s cousin. Derek explains to Stiles a bit about pack dynamics, but Stiles picks up that he never really fit in with the group of misfits, even though Peter took him in. They got along, but Derek never felt comfortable. Something tells him that those selfish, dangerous people Mama Jen warned him about might include Derek’s uncle.

Stiles doesn’t think he has anything nearly as entertaining to talk about to Derek, but apparently he does. He explains how it works in the basement, Mama Jen bringing him food and him healing her aches and pains. They talk about music, and Stiles gripes about the intricacies of learning guitar. Derek listens all about Stiles’ books on clocks, and the gears he draws on paper.

“Do you always draw the same ones?”

“Mostly.”

“How come?”

Stiles tilts his head, imagining them. “I don’t know.. I guess it’s just a picture in my head. Maybe I saw them once?”

Derek turns out to be a really good listener, and Stiles enjoys listening to him too. He doesn’t speak a lot, but what he says he means, speaking slowly to make sure his words come out right. Stiles tries to encourage him to speak more, thirsty for knowledge - in general, as always, but also about Derek himself. He has Derek flash his blue eyes, tells stories about Lydia growing up, and asks about the shoes hanging from the wire. At one point Stiles thinks his face is going to catch on fire when Derek brings up his moles, especially the ones along the side of his face.

“What about them?” He had noticed no one else really had as many as him, but he hoped it wasn’t a big deal.

“You have three of them, right there.” He points towards Stiles’ ear and Stiles’ hand raises to run over them.

“Is that weird?”

“No, it’s...” Derek seems like he wants to say something, but stops himself, which is something Stiles notices a lot. He wishes Derek would just say what he wants. “It’s special.”

They also talk about the watch. Derek has been stealing for years, because that’s just what they did as a pack. They stole, they sold, and they used the profits to eat and live. Peter is the worst of all. Derek had been hoping to grow the spine to pull off a big job, that way he could get away, and when he saw the pocket watch on display he grabbed it without thinking. He had someone chasing him almost immediately after he left, and he didn’t understand why it had a high tech sensor until they both returned to his house. While Stiles was sleeping, Derek found out it had belonged to the late wife of the Sheriff and was going to be auctioned off for the charity. He admits if he had known that, he never would have taken it.

Time goes by quickly, and soon after they are eating the luke-warm tomato pasta that Isaac had brought them. The terror and rush of the morning seems so far away and Stiles wonders if good conversation always did that to people. Mama Jen was never a big talker when Stiles was growing up, more of a listen to him jabber on with a pained expression type. Derek’s expressive eyes and moving eyebrows shows Stiles exactly what he thinks about what Stiles says, even if he thinks it’s weird, but he never seems to get bored. There are some people who come and go, but not very many, and Stiles doesn’t blame them. Other than a couple of places Derek refers to as fire pits, there isn’t much else to pull people in.

The sun starts to go down and Lydia has been asleep for a long time. Stiles finishes his food quickly, and he looks at the trees, wishing he could see the sun disappear along the horizon. His astronomy book talked about sunsets, about the bright array of colors and why they happen. It abruptly occurs to him what comes next and he looks up, his mouth dropping open. He stands from where they had sat on top of a picnic table, and walks into the middle of the clearing, staring up. The sky is only bright on the edge now. Everywhere else is dark, and little tiny white lights start to pop through the shine.

“Those are stars!” He says quietly, looking up at them in awe.

“Have you never seen stars before?”

Stiles can’t quite look away yet, even as he hears Derek moving around behind him. “Can’t see much of anything through my window. Remember?”

There’s no answer, and Stiles doesn’t need one. The sun goes down completely and he reaches a hand up for his neck, rubbing out an aching muscle. He doesn’t think he’s spent this much time looking up in his entire life, but it’s hard to turn away.

“Stiles.” Derek says, and Stiles finally turns around. Derek had been spreading the sleeping bags on top of the two picnic tables. “Lay down. You’ll be able to see them better.”

Stiles had never heard a better plan before. He lets Derek show him how the sleeping bag works, a fairly simple concept, and the tabletop is hard and slightly cold. Lydia pushes to curl up between his legs, and that helps a little. He can’t see Derek, and there’s a sound that Derek said is bugs all around him. But when he looks up, none of it really matters. “Hey, Derek?”

Derek is in his own bag, and Stiles feels a little bit like he’s too far away. “What, Stiles?”

“I really don’t think I’m going to have a problem sleeping outside.”

-

The next morning is a little rough. Falling asleep under the stars had been magical, but the ache in his back didn’t feel quite as great. He manages to wake up before Derek, even though the sun is high in the sky, and he wonders how much sleep Derek got when Stiles had passed out in his bed. He may have taken a second to get a good look at the guy, lips parted and hair mussed, but a few steps away from him his eyes are open and he’s starting to sit up, even as he looks half asleep. Apparently, he is always on edge. They pack up their stuff and leave it under the table, Derek insisting Isaac will be back, and then they are off.

The last mile or so to ‘uptown’ as Derek called it isn’t as bad as the days before. On the one hand, he thinks maybe his legs are getting used to all the walking. On the other, maybe it’s just because he’s not being chased by a police officer and shot at. Derek is constantly keeping his eyes and ears out, worried, but they don’t run into any problems and before long he starts to relax. Mostly because they start to run into people. One or two isn’t fun, but when they start to get lost in a crowd it gets a whole lot easier to think it’s hard for anyone to find them. And Stiles loves it. He has never seen this many people, all talking and happy at once, in his life. There’s so much to look at, so much to take in, that he feels almost overwhelmed, but in a good way. Stiles even overhears people talking about the orchestra, and Stiles counts his blessings that it’s that night. He’s so close he can hear it already.

Derek doesn’t want to go into another restaurant, but he does buy Stiles kettle corn when Stiles stares at the vendor for a little too long. There’s vendors all up and down the street, little tents and excited people, selling objects and clothes and art and anything Stiles could imagine. They sit and watch a band play music for a long while and Stiles stares in awe at how fast the guitarist's fingers move. “Is it always like this?”

“No,” Derek replies, shaking his head. “They are taking advantage of the event to make some extra cash. The Lost Lights Orchestra has been a way to bring money into the town for a few years now. Everyone can hear the music no matter where they are in town, so they all listen to it together.”

There is something perfect about the idea of the music bringing people together. The fact that it means something to people outside of himself speaks to him, and makes him feel like he’s a part of something big. All of this joy, all of these shops, all of the excitement is all for the same thing that Stiles is ready to jump out of his skin for any moment. It’s enough that he doesn’t feel bad for a moment as he pulls Derek every which way, to look at every store even remotely interesting or new and to listen to every band.

To catch Stiles by surprise, Derek eventually steps around him and guides him down the street. “Hey, where are we going?”

“I want to show you something.”

“Is it going to be your teeth? Because it’s not going to stop me from looking at that face painting place.”

“Not this time.” Despite Stiles’ words, it definitely does stop him. They are standing in front of two glass windows with a glass door in the middle, and written across one of the walls are the words, ‘Clock Shop and Repair’. Stiles turns to Derek quickly, as if for confirmation, but Derek just gestures forward towards the door. Stiles doesn’t need to be told twice, and he rushes inside.

The walls are filled with clocks, of different sizes and shapes. There’s a grandfather clock, there are analog clocks, there are electronic clocks whose numbers change automatically. There are clocks in every color. A dark skinned man named Alan is behind the counter and Stiles gets to sit and watch him work on fixing one that he says someone brought to him from two hours away. It’s an antique. Stiles enjoys himself ridiculously, and the whole time he can only think about just how nice it is that Derek thought to bring him.

The last place Stiles drags Derek into is a giant bookstore. He sees the sign from a block away and has no shame grabbing Derek’s arm and pulling him the whole way. Derek doesn’t actually seem to have a problem with it, and the idea that Derek likes to read makes his heart beat funny. He has no idea how long they spend inside, looking through every aisle and every subject, but he thinks it might rival the repair shop. There’s a few minutes of aggravation where he finds himself standing in front of music books, including an easily accessed section of books on how to play the guitar, but eventually he pulls himself away. He won’t let her ruin his good day. Not today.

He had just reunited with Derek and is talking about how amazing the store is when he sees the display in the front. A couple of people are sharing information, but Stiles beelines for the table. The pamphlet is on top of a pile, a large organized stack. It’s perfectly folded and Stiles can’t help but smile as he sees what’s written on the front of it. ‘Lost Lights Charity: An Orchestra Experience’ is printed in elegant script, and as he pulls the pages open he sees more and more information about it. The largest donors, the sponsors, the legacy. It starts to give him excited chills, the idea that they are this close really sinking in.

“Are you going?” A voice asks him, and Stiles lifts his head to find a darker skinned guy with shaggy brown hair giving him a lopsided smile. He turns his head to find Derek, but Derek is suddenly gone.

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Yeah, it’s my step-dad who runs it! The charity, I mean. So, I go to support him and my mom.” The guy reminds Stiles of a puppy. It’s weirdly endearing.

“You make it sound like it’s not really your favorite thing.”

A tall girl with long brown ringlets pops up next to him, curling a hand around the guy’s arm. “What Scott means is he usually falls asleep halfway through.”

The guy’s sheepish smile eases the indignance at the idea that anybody could fall asleep during something as amazing as the music. Some people just didn’t know how good they had it. “Well.. I’ll see you there, then.” He gives a small wave, folding the pamphlet in half and sticking it in his back pocket. The book shop is getting full, too full for his liking, but no matter how much he looks around, he can’t find the back of Derek’s head amongst the crowd. Eventually he commits to stepping outside, figuring when Derek leaves, he’ll have to pass him anyway.

He barely waits outside for a couple of minutes before Derek shows up. It’s not a bad wait, because Stiles learns the joy of a new hobby: people watching. When a guy grows up in a basement, it’s surprising how interesting the general populace can look. The way they laugh, the colors of their hair, all of the different things they wear. He’s surprised when Derek shows up because he taps his shoulder from behind, which means he wasn’t even in the store anymore. “Where’d you go?”

“Sorry, I sort of knew them.” He had large bags in his hands, and Stiles leans forward to peer inside, but Derek pulls them away.

“Hey!” He protests, but Derek pulls away completely, walking down the street. He scampers behind, getting the distinct feeling they are hiding from the two nice people inside. “How do you ‘sort of’ know them?”

Derek doesn't answer immediately, but Stiles has gotten used to this by now. Sometimes Derek hesitates, but he always came out sincere in the end. Especially when they get away from other people. “That was Sheriff Stilinski’s step-son.”

Ah. ‘Scott’ is the stepson of the guy that Derek stole the watch from. Stiles could totally understand why that would be uncomfortable. He’s pretty sure no one knows for a fact that Derek is the one who did it, but if Stiles puts himself in the shoes of a criminal, he can get it. Which is not a thought he imagined he’d ever have. But the conversation he’d had with Scott sinks back in and Stiles jaw drops, turning to Derek and grabbing his arm. “You stole from the guy who runs Lost Lights?!”

Derek winces and Stiles is glad he kept his voice low, but he doesn’t know how he managed it. Derek knew that wouldn’t sit well with Stiles, and yet never mentioned it. “I get it Stiles.” Stiles is pretty sure Derek didn’t get it, and he huffs, throwing his arms in the air. “Don’t give me that look.” The look he’s referring to is probably a complex one, and Stiles can’t really control his face enough to stop it, but he tries. Which mostly results in him biting his lip together and breathing deeply through his nose. But before he can let himself talk again and let his mouth run away from him, Derek speaks.

“I’m going to return it.”

Stiles stops walking, making Derek stop as well and turn to him. “You are?”

“Yes. I thought about it, and I should have thought of the context before I grabbed it... I didn’t know it was for charity. So, I’m going to give it back.”

“What about your cabin in the woods?”

“My what?”

Stiles remembers that his idea of Derek’s future, dream solitude was pretty much only in his head and laughs, feeling a little embarrassed. “Your dream place away from everyone else?”

“Oh.. I’ll just find another way to get the money.”

Stiles wonders honestly how much Derek returning it has to do with guilt, and how much it has to do with Stiles’ opinion. Is that narcissistic? Maybe. But it feels surprisingly true. And on an even deeper level he realizes that this means that the blackmail reason, the thing that had been hovering over their heads as to why Derek did all of these things with him, is gone. “You never cease to surprise me, Derek Hale.”

“Just... come on, would you?”

-

The sun starts to go down, and it looks beautiful. Mostly because Stiles is seeing it over rolling hills of green and flourished tree tops. Sunsets are exactly what they are cracked up to be, and Stiles can’t tear his eyes away. “I bet you’re out here all the time.” He comments as they walk through the grass, trusting Derek knows where they are going.

“Not really,” there’s laughter in Derek’s voice as he looks back at Stiles and Stiles rolls his eyes. What a waste. How could anybody ignore the chance to see a sight like this every night if they had the chance? Non-basement people really did take advantage of their life, but not him. Derek has the large bags slung over his shoulder, and Stiles considers asking if he needs help, but Mister Werewolf probably wouldn’t accept the help anyways.

They finally reach the top of a hill, and Stiles is a little out of breath by the time they do. “This better be worth it,” he pants, but he sees Derek’s smirk and knows it will be. He follows Derek’s eyes and feels the last of his breath punch out of him. At the bottom of the hill is the pavilion, a large half dome curling into the sky. It has the full spread of chairs set up for the orchestra, lights on and shining, and there are rows upon rows of chairs set up on the ground in the front and around it. People are already filling the chairs on the ground. “This is where...?”

“Yes. I think they are going to start soon, too.”

Stiles feels the smile break on his face. This is it. The hill falls gently, a rolling level of lush grass. They are a little off to the side, having a better look at the stage than the the people in the audience. They all look tiny from up here, but if he could hear the music even quietly from Mama Jen’s basement - which at one point he thought of as his basement, but doesn't anymore - then he could only imagine what the music will sound like from here. Lydia runs down through the grass, pouncing on something in the thick of it, and it all seems so perfect. He hears a rustling next to him. “What do you have in there?”

The bags are being opened to show blankets, several of them, and Derek is spreading them on top of each other on the grass. “Figured since we didn’t have seats, these would do.” The blankets are sort of ugly, bright and mismatched and crazy looking, and Stiles loves them. He loves them because Derek got them for the two of them.

“Who are you and what did you do with the grumpy Derek of three days ago, huh? You starting to like me or something?” Derek glances up at him, his lips curled slightly, and Stiles can feel his cheeks burn. “You know... in general... as a person.”

The small smile on Derek’s lips disappears, and he licks his lips. “Like you said.. you’re probably going back after this. So I figured you wouldn’t want to watch the whole thing sitting on the dirty ground.”

The whole idea is so caring that it makes his chest hurt and he walks over. Derek’s voice had lost some humor when he brought up Stiles going back, and it just increases his own warring opinions on the subject. “Maybe...” He says, and Derek looks up, raising an eyebrow. “Maybe I can break out again. Or maybe you can come visit.” There really isn’t a response, and Stiles can’t stand the guilt he feels. “Maybe I can go visit you in your secluded cabin in the woods.”

Derek swallows, and Stiles can see his adam’s apple moving up and down from how close they are. “That’s a lot of maybes, Stiles.” His voice doesn’t sound frustrated as much as it simply sounds resigned, and it makes a desperate need to reassure him grow in Stiles’ chest.

A round of applause started to ring through the night as men and women of all shapes and sizes filter to the stage with instruments in hand. The clapping ripples across the crowd as the murmuring dies down, and he realizes everything is about to begin. This is it. Stiles moves to sit on the hill, feeling Derek sit next to him, and having this kind of company makes even the hard ground through the blanket not so bad. Lydia crawls to curl between their thighs, and Stiles doesn’t comment when Derek’s hand touches the top of her head, blunt fingers scratching behind her dark red ears.

A man, lines on his face and grey in his hair, is walking across the stage to the microphone and the applause picks up even more, dying down almost as soon as he reaches the front of the stage. “Hello, folks, and welcome to the seventh annual Lost Lights Foundation Orchestra.” The man’s voice travels well, especially thanks to the loud speakers surrounding the stage which had to be why Stiles could hear it, even miles away, but he doesn’t strike Stiles as a public speaker. There is an authority about him, but also an approachability. “I know a lot of you know who I am, but for those of you traveling, I am John Stilinski, the Sheriff here in Beacon Hills. I am also the founder of Lost Lights, alongside my wife, Melissa.” He nods to someone in front of him, a fond acknowledgement and Stiles wishes he was close enough to see her.

“I promise I won’t take up too much of your time,” Sheriff Stilinski continues on. “I feel as if before we start this, it’s important to remember why we are here. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, roughly eight hundred thousand children are reported missing each year in the United States. That’s roughly two thousand per day. Of those, there are about one hundred and fifteen cases of kids being taken by strangers, someone the parents have never even met before.” He pauses as if to let the words sink in. They did their job and Stiles felt it in his chest, a heavy despair for families who experience what he’s describing. “Fifteen years ago I knew these facts... I was a deputy for the Beacon Police Department. We handled cases similar from time to time, and worked to always bring a happy ending. Because you never really expect tragedy to strike so close, in your own town... in your own home. When my three year old son went missing, my first wife and I did everything we could to find Mieczyslaw, but days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. The case went cold, no leads, but we never lost hope. Not even when my wife got sick, and not even when I lost her as well. Mieczyslaw was my world, the light to my life. Sadly, though... families lose their lights every day.”

Stiles turns away from the raw emotion in the man’s voice, his fingers wringing together in his lap. He did feel for the man in front of him, for his tragedy, but even more so he thought of Mama Jen. What was it like for her when she walked into the basement and saw that Stiles wasn’t there anymore? The window broken, the chair and ripped fabric.. Stiles hadn’t even left a note. Mama Jen had lied to him, he knew that. But maybe she was just trying to protect him. As much as he had enjoyed his adventure, he had definitely been in more danger the last three days than he has ever been in his entire life. Was she worried she had lost the light of her life? Was Stiles that to her? It didn't feel like he was.

“And that’s why we’re here today,” Sheriff Stilinski continues. “Every ticket and donation bought today, one hundred percent of the proceeds goes to the Lost Lights Foundation to try to reconnect families with their lost children, and to help them to cope with tragedy when reconnection seems impossible... to help them keep hope. Our great musicians are here to perform voluntarily, and they have a selection of music that Claudia used to play for our son, the only thing that could calm him when he was upset. Hopefully, it does the same for some others as well. So, I’ll stop my blathering.” Light laughter travels over the crowd, a familiar reaction. Sheriff Stilinski is obviously well connected to his people. “You all paid for some music, so here’s your show. And I thank you all very much for your patronage.”

Stiles’ concentration breaks as Derek’s hand covers his own gently, and he looks down, realizing he’d been worrying his fingers so badly they’d grown red with the pressure. He looks back up to his companion, and Derek’s face is concerned, obviously worried, and Stiles marvels at how much of a change has come in just a few short days. Derek’s expressive face affects him so much differently now. He was annoyed at the aggravation that would show in those eyebrows, and now all he wants to do is run his thumb over Derek’s forehead, flatten out those sympathetic wrinkles. He may not understand what he’s feeling, but he likes it. He likes feeling this way towards Derek.

He starts to say that he’s okay, reassure Derek, but after his lips part the music is starting. His head whips around, and as the first few notes wring out from the stage Stiles’ breathing stutters to a stop. He had figured and hoped and prayed that hearing it in person would mean so much more than hearing it from far away, had kept his fingers crossed that this whole journey was worth it. That he hadn’t potentially thrown out everything good in his life for something that wouldn’t even change anything. His prayers are fulfilled, his hopes given life. As the instruments start to play together, a deep and complicated classical tune, he feels something shift inside of him. It’s as if this one night, these minutes, were going to alter who he is as a person, who he is meant to be. This music is going to change everything for him, he just knows it.

He doesn’t even recognize how much of an emotional reaction he’s having until the music is well under way and he realizes he’s holding Derek’s hand. At some point, the fingers that were stopping him from hurting himself were grasped, digits interlacing and overlapping together. He looks down at the hands, his pale skin a stark contrast to Derek’s own tan, and slowly he follows Derek’s arm all the way up. He’s surprised to find Derek watching him, as if he never once looked away, and Derek’s eyes - that beautiful hazel that Stiles still can’t imagine ever being able to recreate with paint - makes him feel like he’s completely see-through. That every bare, sensitive emotion in his head is open and raw. That Derek knows that if Stiles had a choice he would stay right here for the rest of his life, Mama Jen be damned.

He’s feeling so intensely he’s shaking, a physical reaction to his emotional upheaval, and Derek’s soft voice speaks, a low undercurrent to the music that matches perfectly. It’s as if Derek’s voice connected to something deep inside of him, the same place that the music has always been able to touch. It might have been Stiles’ heart. “Are you cold?” Stiles doesn’t want to admit what he is feeling, doesn’t want to say he is so completely overwhelmed, so he nods shakily. Derek’s hand pulls away and Stiles feels fear, stark fear at losing something he just realized he needed, but then Derek’s jacket is slipping off of his shoulders and sliding onto Stiles’ own. It’s warm, too warm for someone who isn’t cold in the first place, but it makes him feel grounded.

His eyes are burning as he looks back to the stage, and it isn’t long before his hand finds Derek’s without shame, head leaning on Derek’s shoulder. They stay like that, their positions only shifting slightly as their bodies get sore, for two hours. By the end of it, there is standing applause, and Stiles does the same, moving to his feet to clap loudly, shouting. He hears Derek laugh softly, even as he claps too, and they get a few looks from the crowd. But no one comes to check on them, the crowd slowly filtering out. Stiles goes to sit next to him again, sighing happily. “That was amazing.” He finally brings himself to say, not having any other words.

“Should we..?” Derek asks after a minute of silence in the dark, and Stiles knows what he’s going to say.

“No... not yet, okay? I just want to stay just like this... just for a little while longer. Okay?”

Derek’s face can be seen in the shine from the pavilions lights and he nods. “Okay. As long as you want.” The lights turn off eventually, and the stars in the sky start to be visible, and still, they don’t move. There's nowhere else he’d rather be.

-

When Stiles wakes up the next morning, it’s early and he hears a low meowing. His back hurts from sleeping on the ground, and he’s slightly disoriented by his pillow moving. They had stayed up late, way too late for how exhausted the last few days had made him, and Stiles had finally passed out with his head on Derek’s chest. But Derek is moving and standing and leaving and it is way too early for all of this. “Derek...?”

“Just a second.” Derek’s gruff voice says, and then he’s standing and going down the hill. “Lydia! Come here, you stupid cat.”

Stiles looks around him, and realizes that Derek’s right. Lydia is nowhere to be found. He rubs his eyes, and when he squints through the morning fuzz he can see Lydia running down the hill towards the pavilion. It strikes him a bit odd for a moment, but he’s not sure why... maybe because she hadn’t left his side for a long, long time. He trusts Derek to get her and stretches his arms over his head. His brain is just about to recall the night before in every perfect second when a voice behind him makes his heart stop in his chest.

“Good morning, Stiles.”

Stiles turns around quickly, brain suddenly much more awake than it was seconds ago. “Mama Jen...” He mutters, because it is her. She stands tall and intimidating behind him, and he scrambles to stand. Her face is pinched in judgement, and his heart slams in his chest. “How did you find me?”

“You really think I wouldn’t know where you’d go, Stiles? I’ve known where you were this whole time.” Her hands are in the pocket of her dark cloak, and Stiles shivers, but he doesn’t think it’s because he’s cold. She couldn’t have known where he was. “I let you have your fun, Stiles... but now it’s time to go home.”

“You ‘let’ me?” He asks incredulously. The idea that all he had experienced over the last few life changing days had been because Mama Jen allowed him to experience it didn’t sit well with him in any way.

“Yes. I let you. And now it’s over.”

Stiles turns his head to look down the hill where Derek is chasing after Lydia still. Or rather, calmly following her. All he wants to do is follow them down, explore the pavilion, find some food, continue this adventure. But he always knew this was going to end. There is a small hope in his chest that this wasn’t the end, though. Not really. “Okay.. I’ll get Lydia and say goodbye. And then we can go home and talk.”

“No.”

Stiles turns his head, confusion evident on his face. “What?”

“I said no, Stiles. That’s why I made Lydia run away in the first place. It’s time to go... now.”

He’s not sure if Mama Jen expected him to fight, or if she was planning on doing it the whole time, but the purple powder that is breathed into his face makes him cough almost immediately, coating his tongue where he had opened his mouth to protest. He leans over, spitting as much of it out as he can, but it’s not enough. He turns on her, wanting to demand an answer, but the world spins as he moves. He stumbles, landing against her before slowly sliding to the ground as his head spins. His vision starts to grey, and the only thing he can do before he passes out is pray that Derek sees it all happen.

When he wakes up he has trouble making himself move. He has no way of knowing how much time has passed, and he’s left staring at an all too familiar ceiling with growing fear. What had she done to him? He can still taste the powder in his mouth with a numb tongue. It takes long minutes before he is able to move, starting with his fingers and toes, and slowly working in. Once he can manage it, he pushes himself sloppily onto his side. The floor is cold, Derek’s jacket gone, and he breathes heavily as he focuses on getting back on track. Gradually he’s able to lean into a sitting position, and he slowly looks around the room, not wanting to make himself dizzy again. The basement is practically empty, and his curtains - plus a few more - are put up around the room. Where did all of his stuff go?

Shock isn’t the right word for what he feels when he sees that Mama Jen had been silently watching him struggle to get his bearings the entire time. It was moreso deeply unsettling, like when Jackson had spoken to Derek the morning after Stiles had run away. “Mama Jen...”

“Things are going to change now, Stiles.” She’s sitting in a chair, legs crossed primly. She looks exhausted, even through the stern look on her face, but for the first time when he sees how tired she is he doesn’t feel the urge to help her.

“What do you mean?”

Mama Jen slowly rises to her feet, but keeps her distance from him, as if she’s so angry she doesn’t even want to be near her son. Her hand gestures to the room around them, and Stiles’ eyes are drawn to how bony her fingers are. “I gave you a life here, Stiles, I gave you gifts and happiness. And in return you ran away from me.”

Stiles scoffs, feeling bitter from all the things he learned while he was free. That really is how he sees it now. She didn’t give him a home, she kept him captive. “You acted like every single thing you gave me was a hardship, or rare, or difficult to find. You acted like there wasn’t any good left in the world! But I saw it.”

“As I was saying...” She continues on, ignoring his words. He grits his teeth together, not wanting to stand for that anymore. Not now that he found someone who actually listens to him. “Now you’ll stay here without all of your things. And I’ll be staying here with you.”

“What?! No way!”

“You lost your chance to make choices about your own life when you put yourself in danger, Stiles.”

“How was I in danger?” Okay, scratch that. He was probably in what could easily be considered ‘danger’ several times if he was honest. Was it so bad that he had enjoyed himself? That he had fun? “Why are you doing this?”

“Because you’re mine! I own you!” Her voice raises an octave, and Stiles pulls back. He’s never heard her yell before, and it seems to catch her off guard as well. “You’re... my son. You’re mine.”

It should pull at his heart strings to hear her say that, but he can’t push through all of the overwhelming emotions in his chest. “You can’t own me, mom. You can’t just make me stay here... I’m going to be an adult. It’s like... kidnapping, or something!”

Mama Jen’s lips slowly curl into something that isn’t even close to a smile. “My name is Mama Jen. That’s what you’ll call me, Stiles. And we’ll talk more when you turn eighteen. Until then... you’ll listen to what I’m saying.”

It’s like arguing with a brick wall. This had been what he dealt with his entire life, a mother who was so set in her ways that she wouldn’t consider budging for a moment. Not unless there was something in it for her. Stiles reaches up to run a hand over his head, feeling worn down and exhausted. How did he end up back here? How did she manage to drag all of his fight from him? He guesses it all comes down to one simple fact... she is his mother. She is the reason he’s even alive. How can he convince her that she’s hurting him? He watches her, but she says nothing more, just watching him with a steel resolve and he searches for what to say.

“If Derek...” He pauses before he keeps talking, feeling like he is on uncertain footing. Like he could take a step and the ground would fall out from under him. But he needs to know. “If Derek comes to see me, can he? I mean... he already knows where I am, and he didn't try to hurt me.” Mama Jen walks up to him, but her face doesn’t change. The stony silence makes him nervous. “He’s not perfect, but he’s a good person. I’d... really, really like to see him again.”

The slap across his face surprises him. He’s left with his head cocked to the side from the force of it, lips parted and eyes wide. Pain blossoms over his cheek like a fiery flower and the force of it is enough to bring moisture to the corners of his eyes, along with fear. Mama Jen had manipulated him, had denied him, had drugged him, but she had never hurt him. His hand reaches up to cup his own cheek, and his fingers burn against it, healing him without even meaning to do it. He swallows and turns back to her, only to come face to face with the same stone that had sewn itself to her features like a wall Stiles would never be able to climb again.

“Did that hurt, Stiles?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Her voice is deadly, deep and firm, and he can’t help but hang on every word. “I want you to remember that pain every time you think of Derek. I want you to relate that shocked terror to the idea of him being near you.” She lifts her other hand, and for all of Stiles’ adventures the last few days he still flinches away from her. This isn’t a stranger. This is the one person in his life before Derek that he trusted. And he had lost all of that just by breaking out. Her fingers run over the other side of his head, touching the short hair, and he gets no comfort from it. “I was like you once. I was out there, and I was innocent. I convinced myself I was in love. And she killed everyone I have ever loved, and then tried to kill me. And that’s what will happen to you, Stiles. You will lose everything.”

She turns away as her words sink in, and his mouth speaks despite himself. His words are hollow, but after he speaks he feels how deeply he needs the answer to the unspoken question. “I thought you said that was my father.” Her steps stop and she pauses. “You said my father tried to kill you.”

“You know nothing of the world out there, so take a word of advice from someone who does... and go to your room.”

-

Two hours later, and Stiles is lying behind the curtain that apparently now makes up his room.

His mind is running too quick for him to make much sense of the last few days, let alone the last few hours. It’s like a bird trapped in a cage, desperate to get out but just hitting walls everywhere it turns. But instead of feathers, it’s ideas. He feels like he’s on the precipice of something, that he has been for days, and he’s this close to knowing what it is. Like there are words forming on the back of his tongue, but instead of coming out they are choking him. He thinks this is what true panic feels like.

One idea, separate from his desperation, comes to the front. There’s something he can think of that could calm him down. He glances at the curtain, but sees no activity. He hadn’t heard or seen anything since he stepped inside. He rolls over and reaches under his mattress, searching and finally clasping his fingers around the warm metal of the pocket watch. Okay, so that probably wasn’t the best hiding place, but he’d bluffed pretty well with Derek. He pulls it into sight, laying on his back and holding it above him.

It did the trick, just like it had before. The gold is smooth and calming, and it feels perfect in the curl of his palm. He opens the latch to see the face, watching as the second hand ticks around rhythmically without fail. He takes a deep breath as he feels it tick, honestly surprised it hadn’t need winding up again yet. But Derek had said it was worth a lot of money. He figures just to be safe he grasps the dial on the edge and turns it, enjoying the feel of the old technology, the soft clicking of the crank. As he listens he notices another small button and thumbs it curiously. What’s the worst that could happen, besides breaking an expensive watch?

He presses it and at first he panics, thinking he really did break it. The face comes off in his palm and his eyes grow wide. It wasn’t the face, however, but rather a cover to the face - a thin sheet of white encasing the face. And underneath are gears. It's as if this particular watch was built to show you just how it works, the small contraptions inside spinning and meshing inside perfectly. Stiles feels a sudden peace before he’s suddenly going just as fast as he was before he grabbed the watch.

Suddenly, those words that were choking him weren’t choking him anymore. They were trying to get out. He sits up, staring down at the watch in his hand. All of his drawings were gone, undoubtedly tossed in the trash by Mama Jen, but he didn’t need to see them to know for a fact these were the gears that he drew. That he had drawn since he was a child. They were in his head, exactly how he was seeing them, and he could barely breathe.

It was like lines were being connected in his head. Red, blue, green, yellow, jumping from one idea to another. One memory is drawn to another and suddenly they all make sense next to each other. Mama Jen never let him out of the house. Derek had said this watch belonged to Sheriff Stilinski’s wife. He knew these gears like they were a memory. A memory as strong as the music from the Orchestra. Sheriff Stilinski hosted the orchestra for his foundation for missing children. They played the same music his wife used to play for his son before he was kidnapped.

Long fingers reach behind him to the back pocket of his pants, and he pulls out the folded pamphlet from the book store. The front, the middle, the wings were all covered in the same elegant script, words he thought he’d be able to re-read over and over again to remind himself of his luck. But the back had only one thing. A logo for the foundation was at the top, a banner hanging above a picture of a young boy. A young boy with a shaved head, big brown eyes. His skin was pale, and freckled with moles. His fingers shake as the watch falls to the bed, lifting to run over the side of his jaw. Three moles, perfectly circling his left ear, are raised from his skin just like the young boy in the picture, whose name is scrawled in elegance as Mieczyslaw Noah Stilinski.

When he stands, he realizes in the back of his mind that his brain is easily working at the most calm it ever has. All of his trains of thought have crashed together, working on one similar track. The pamphlet is left behind with the watch, his feet carrying him forward to pull the curtains apart. He barely takes a step into the main room before Mama Jen is coming out of another curtain, her face already pinched with emotion at him daring to exit his designated space.

“Stiles, I told you-”

“You’re not my mother.” She stops short, and after a moment for the words to sink in, he sees a look on her face he hasn’t seen in his entire life. She looks scared. She swallows and he can see the tremble in the movement. It gives him the courage to say it again, say it louder. “You’re... not... my... mother.” He can see the truth of the statement in her eyes, and if he had needed confirmation that would be it.

“Stiles. You’re letting your mind get away with-”

“You’re not my mother!” He screams it this time, and he enjoys seeing her jump. He had never had this sort of power over her before, or maybe he always had. He had simply never used it. He wants to see it again, see her fear him, and he grabs the curtain, pulling it to the floor with a metallic clatter.

“Watch how far you take this Stiles...” She has warning in her voice, and it just angers Stiles more.

“You’re not my mother, do you want to know why? Because my mother is dead!” The truth of the matter is that the whole situation is still coming along in his head. The words he says hit him like a train, and he loses his breath. “I don’t get a chance to meet my mother, because of you. You and your lies!”

He takes a step forward, and maybe he means it to be threatening. He doesn’t know what he plans on doing, but he knows he has to do something. He never gets a chance, though. All he sees is her mouth wide open and hand flying out. He never hears a sound, but whatever she screams sends him flying, his back colliding with the wall feet behind him. His head connects with the stone and he cries out, his legs giving out from under him. He stays upright, though, and he realizes whatever she did is leaving pressure on his chest to a point he struggles for his breaths, holding him against the wall.

“What... what did you do?”

Mama Jen, though even thinking that term now makes him sink, steps closer to him and she’s breathing heavily, as if the action of holding him against the wall is more trouble than it's worth. He struggles against the pressure, but she pushes him back harder, and he can almost see the wrinkles in her face growing more pronounced. “I tried to give you a good life here, Stiles.”

“You lied to me, and manipulated me!”

“And I gave you everything you needed! I gave you a roof over your head, and books, and art supplies, and any other ridiculous thing your hyperactive mind demanded. I fed you and taught you. I raised you, and it wasn’t easy for me!”

The pressure is getting to be too much to fight and he chokes out his words, feeling himself get woozy. “Why?” It’s soft, but still demanding. “Why did you?”

The pressure lessens, and he stares at her, pleading. “Because she almost killed me.” At first Stiles’ mind scrambles to fill in the blanks, before he remembers the conversation he had with her before he went to his room. “I loved her, and she almost killed me. I still don’t know what Kali wanted, what that accomplished for her. But I was going to die, Stiles.”

He doesn’t know who Kali is, but he has a feeling all of the stories he was told of his father come back to her. Mama Jen steps closer to him now, and he wishes he could move away from her. His head is killing him. “She left me to die and one last spell was the only way I could live. And that spell gave a random child... you... the power to fix me. I gave you that power.” Her fingers find his and he shakes his head, because that power is his. Not hers. “You keep me alive every day, Stiles.”

“Not anymore... you can find some other way to... cheat death, or whatever it is you’re doing.” He cries out again as she bends his fingers backward, and he can feel the tendons bend dangerously.

“No, you will stay here Stiles. And I will find a way to have you heal me. If it’s the last thing I do.”

Stiles can’t think up something to say in return through the pain, and luckily he doesn’t have to. A loud, creaking metal noise rings through the basement and it reminds him of the morning Derek tore open his window, but there is no window to open anymore. Instead, there is an opening in the ceiling, the one Mama Jen had used his entire life. And in through the hole drops Lydia, followed by Derek himself.

“Stiles!”

“Derek!” He yells, and there’s a warning in his voice, but it’s not enough. Whatever scream she does, whatever her flying hand does, it’s suddenly directed at Derek and he’s thrown against the wall. He recovers from it a lot better than Stiles does, fighting against the power, and Mama Jen stumbles away from Stiles to hold both hands out. She seems weaker by the second, and Stiles is hopeful for a moment that this is too much for her. He hasn’t healed her in days, that has to be why she’s weak. Just like she had been after he asked if he could hear the music and she left him alone, which now he knows for a fact was punishment.

“I saw a picture, Stiles... down by the stage... Lydia brought me here as fast as she could...” Derek’s voice is gritty, his teeth pressed together. His eyes shine bright blue as he fights against her hold and Stiles isn’t scared when he sees the shine this time. “The picture looked like...”

“It was me.” He’s nodding quickly, wanting Derek to know that he’s right. That Stiles was kidnapped, that Stiles isn’t home right now. He’s a hostage.

“Stop talking!” Mama Jen’s voice sounds strange, deep, and breathless. She seems to still, pulling herself up straight under the weight of her magic. It’s like she’s collecting herself, coming up with a plan, and he knows he has a very small amount of time to come up with a counter plan, but he doesn’t know what to do.

The choice is made for him. Lydia comes flying through the air, and lands on Mama Jen’s head, claws and teeth out. “Push!” He calls, his voice breaking, and Derek is right there with him on the opposite side of the room. They push their hands out, shoving against her magic as she’s distracted. His fingers burn with his own powers, and he doesn’t understand any of this, but he understands what he sees. And that’s the forces that had been holding them backlashing against her. She grabs Lydia and throws her across the room, Stiles’ cat sliding along the floor in the nick of time, and then Mama Jen is tossed back, doing the exact same thing much less gracefully. She writhes on the ground as Stiles, now free, falls to his knees.

“Stiles... please...” Her hand reaches out for him, fingers curling and trembling, and he crawls to her side, looking down at her. The magic coming back to her must have been too much. Her skin grows sallow and grey, as if her face is caving in on itself. She is dying right before him, reaching for him desperately. But not him. Reaching for his hands. If he had been given enough time, he may have healed her, he may have let his former love for her overcome him. But he will never know, because before his eyes she loses the light inside of her and collapses against the floor, a decrepit, old woman whose eyes are lost in collapsed wrinkles.

He doesn’t know how long he sits there, staring at her, his own hands held in front of him as if still wanting to help. Derek’s hand slides over his shoulder in a form of comfort, and he takes what he can get, his face wet with emotion. She is gone.

He is free.

-

Derek takes him to Sheriff Stilinski’s house, and that’s as far as he goes. He promises they will cross paths again, and then Stiles is knocking on the door, Lydia limping beside him. He’s fragile, like an open nerve, and one look at him and the pocket watch in his hand is enough for Sheriff Stilinski to pull Stiles into the kind of desperate, loving hug he never managed to get from Mama Jen. Not once. He is home.

It takes a long time to hash everything out. Her name was Jennifer Blake, and she was an emissary, essentially a magical human liaison for werewolf packs. There is no record of Kali, but his dad - he has a dad, he has a dad who is okay with being called dad - says that wasn’t uncommon years ago in some werewolf factions. She took him right out of his home for her own selfish gain, but she had been knocking on death’s door ever since. His mom and dad had searched and searched for him, and had never given up. His mom still knew with certainty that he was alive the day she died. Lydia breaks her leg, but it’s put into a cast and is projected to heal perfectly. Jennifer’s body is found and buried in an unmarked grave, and the case is closed.

The basement, the pain, the fear... none of that mattered now. Now, he has a home. He has a bedroom with windows and a bed that isn’t as soft but is still ten times better. He has a dad who thinks he can somehow cram fifteen years of Stiles’ childhood into fifteen days and Stiles loves him so much for it that his chest hurts. He has a step-mom named Melissa who doesn’t so much as blink when he shows up, as if she always knew she had a step-son, she was just waiting for him to get home. He even has a step-brother, the guy from the bookstore with the uneven face and puppy dog eyes, and Scott is literally the best guy in the world. Even his girlfriend Allison is kind and sweet and sometimes... sometimes it’s too much good.

John - because that is his dad’s name, he knows that now - doesn’t want to let Stiles out of his sight, but he’s eighteen and goes where he wants when he needs to go. His birthday was apparently the night of the Orchestra. And that is precisely where he finds himself, walking to the hill looking over the the pavilion and sitting in the same spot he fell asleep in Derek’s arms. He sits there and breathes, rejoices at everything good he has, processes everything new, and mourns the woman he once thought of as his mother. The sun starts to set and he watches the beauty of it, and realizes there is only one thing he craves that he doesn’t have.

It’s fitting that soon after sitting he feels Derek sit next to him, and he smiles. He knows it is him before he even turns his head, but it’s still nice to see him again. “Hi.”

“Hey.” Derek say softly, all rough edges and gritty stubble and sharp teeth and soft, soft words. “Are you okay?”

Stiles smiles, and links his fingers with Derek’s own. “I am now.”